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Chapter 3. Science and Engineering Labor Force


Chapter Overview

Policymakers and scholars consistently emphasize innovation based on S&E research and development as a vehicle for a nation’s economic growth and global competitiveness. Workers with S&E expertise are an integral part of a nation’s innovative capacity because of their high skill level, their creative ideas, and their ability not only to advance basic scientific knowledge but also to transform advances in fundamental knowledge into tangible products and services. As a result, these workers make important contributions to improving living standards and accelerating the pace of a nation’s economic and productivity growth.

Chapter Organization

The U.S. workforce includes both individuals employed in S&E occupations and individuals educated in S&E fields but employed in a variety of non-S&E occupations. Many more individuals have S&E degrees than work in S&E occupations. Indicative of a knowledge-based economy, many individuals in non-S&E occupations report that their work nevertheless requires a bachelor’s degree level of S&E expertise. Therefore, the first section in this chapter, “U.S. S&E Workforce: Definition, Size, and Growth,” discusses the U.S. S&E workforce based on three measures: workers in S&E occupations, holders of S&E degrees, and use of S&E technical expertise on the job. This section also discusses the interplay between educational background and occupational choice as well as the growth in the U.S. S&E workforce over time.

The second section in this chapter, “S&E Workers in the Economy,” examines the distribution of S&E workers across employment sectors. It describes the distribution of S&E workers across sectors (e.g., business, education, government) as well as within particular sectors (e.g., local, state, and federal government). This section also presents data on geographic distribution of S&E employment in the United States. Data on R&D activity and work-related training by S&E workers are also discussed.

The third section, “S&E Labor Market Conditions,” looks at labor market outcomes for S&E workers. Data in this section focus on earnings and unemployment. Data on recent S&E graduates are also discussed, as are broader measures of labor underutilization that go beyond the conventional unemployment rate.

The next three sections cover labor force demographics. “Age and Retirement of the S&E Workforce” presents data on the age distribution and retirement patterns of S&E workers. “Women and Minorities in the S&E Workforce” focuses on S&E participation by women and by racial and ethnic minorities; this section also presents data on salary differences by sex and by race and ethnicity. “Immigration and the S&E Workforce” presents data on S&E participation by foreign-born individuals in the United States as well as the worldwide migration patterns of high-skill workers.

The final section in this chapter is “Global S&E Labor Force.” Although there are indications that the global S&E labor force has grown, international data on the characteristics of this broader labor force are particularly limited and are not always comparable with data for the United States. In this final section, data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are used to present indicators of worldwide R&D employment.

This chapter uses a variety of data sources, including, but not limited to, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT), the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey administered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the Current Population Survey (CPS) sponsored jointly by the Census Bureau and BLS. Different sources cover different segments of the population and different levels of detail on different topics. (See table 3-1 and sidebar, “NSF’s Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System.”) Although data collection methods and definitions can differ across surveys in ways that affect estimates, combining data from different sources facilitates an accurate and comprehensive picture of the very specialized S&E workforce. A particular measure or categorization of the workforce may be better suited for addressing some questions than others, and a particular data source may not include information in every category. Analyses of long-term trends, international trends, and comparison of S&E and non-S&E workers are discussed whenever data are available.