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Unemployment among Doctoral Scientists and Engineers Increased but Remained Below the National Average

NSF 14-310 | April 2014| PDF format. PDF  
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by Carolina Milesi, Lance A. Selfa, and Lynn M. Milan [1]

In 2010, an estimated 805,500 individuals in the United States held research doctoral degrees in science, engineering, and health (SEH) fields, an increase of 6.2% from 2008.[2] Of these individuals, 709,700 were in the labor force, which includes those employed full time or part time and those actively seeking work (i.e., unemployed). The unemployment rate for SEH doctorate recipients was 2.4% in October 2010, up from 1.7% in October 2008 and similar to the rate in October 2003 (table 1).[3] Moreover, the 2010 unemployment rate of the SEH doctoral labor force was about one-third of the October 2010 unemployment rate for the general population aged 25 years or older (8.2%).[4]

TABLE 1. Number in labor force and unemployment rate for scientists and engineers with U.S. doctoral degrees, by field of doctorate: 2001–10
Field of doctorate 2001 2003 2006 2008 2010
Number in labor force
All SEH fields 582,500 606,300 630,300 670,200 709,700
Biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences 142,400 148,800 158,200 167,600 179,600
Computer and information sciences 10,900 12,300 13,700 16,300 19,400
Mathematics and statistics 26,300 29,000 29,500 31,200 32,500
Physical sciences 113,200 115,700 115,800 119,900 124,400
Psychology 89,600 93,000 97,500 101,000 104,200
Social sciences 77,200 79,600 81,000 85,100 88,700
Engineering 101,300 104,400 108,000 119,800 129,100
Health 21,500 23,600 26,500 29,300 31,800
Unemployment rate (percent)a
All SEH fields 1.3 2.1 1.4 1.7 2.4
Biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences 1.1 2.0 1.4 1.9 2.2
Computer and information sciences 0.9 2.4 1.4 1.2 2.1
Mathematics and statistics 1.5 2.4 1.0 1.0 1.5
Physical sciences 1.7 2.5 2.1 2.4 3.5
Psychology 0.8 1.7 0.9 1.3 1.7
Social sciences 1.3 1.5 1.0 1.3 1.9
Engineering 1.7 2.7 1.4 1.8 2.8
Health 0.5 1.3 0.7 1.0 1.9

SEH = science, engineering, and health.

a Based on count of doctorate recipients in labor force.

NOTES: Numbers represent weighted counts, rounded to the nearest 100. October was the survey reference month in 2003, 2008, and 2010; April was the survey reference month in 2001 and 2006. Estimates from 2001 to 2006 may vary slightly from those previously published due to revised nondisclosure procedures. Estimates from 2008 vary from those previously published to reflect a revised sample design that integrates the international component of the Survey of Doctorate Recipients. Estimates from 2010 also reflect the integrated sample design. See Data Sources and Availability for more detail.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients.

Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

These and other findings in this InfoBrief are from the 2010 Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), which collects information from individuals who have earned research doctorates in SEH fields from U.S. academic institutions.

Employment Status

Field of Doctoral Study and Years since Doctorate

Of the approximately 709,700 SEH doctoral degree holders in the labor force in 2010, about one-quarter (25.3%) had earned a doctorate in the biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences; 18.2% had doctorates in engineering; 17.5% in physical sciences; 14.7% in psychology; 12.5% in social sciences; 4.6% in mathematics and statistics; 4.5% in health; and 2.7% in computer and information sciences (percentages derived from table 1). Unemployment rates ranged from 1.5% for those who received doctorates in mathematics and statistics to 3.5% for those who received doctorates in the physical sciences.

Of the total SEH doctoral population in October 2010, 88.1% was in the labor force, with 76.1% working full time and another 9.9% working part time (table 2). An additional 10.0% of the SEH doctoral population was retired in 2010, whereas the rest was not seeking work (1.9%). Across SEH degree fields, full-time employment ranged from 66.2% for those with psychology doctorates to 88.5% for those with computer and information sciences doctorates.

TABLE 2. Employment status of scientists and engineers with U.S. doctoral degrees, by field and years since doctorate: 2010
(Percent)
In labor force Not in labor force
Working for pay or profit
Field and years since doctorate Total (number) All All
working
Full
time
Part
time
Unemployeda All Retired Not working, not seeking work
All U.S. SEH doctorate holders 805,500 88.1 86.0 76.1 9.9 2.1 11.9 10.0 1.9
Field of doctorate
Biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences 201,800 89.0 87.1 79.6 7.5 2.0 11.0 8.4 2.6
Computer and information sciences 20,000 97.0 95.0 88.5 6.5 2.0 3.0 2.0 1.0
Mathematics and statistics 38,200 85.1 83.8 75.4 8.1 1.3 15.2 13.1 1.8
Physical sciences 145,900 85.3 82.3 74.6 7.7 2.9 14.7 13.2 1.5
Psychology 116,700 89.3 87.7 66.2 21.6 1.5 10.7 8.3 2.4
Social sciences 103,600 85.6 84.0 73.3 10.7 1.6 14.4 12.6 1.7
Engineering 143,800 89.8 87.3 81.3 6.1 2.5 10.2 9.0 1.2
Health 35,500 89.6 87.9 76.9 11.3 1.7 10.4 8.5 1.7
Years since doctorate
2 years or less 61,200 97.4 95.1 89.4 5.9 2.1 2.8 D 2.6
3–5 years 82,100 97.2 95.2 89.2 6.1 1.9 2.8 0.1 2.7
6–10 years 113,500 96.8 95.2 87.6 7.7 1.6 3.2 0.7 2.5
11–15 years 113,000 96.2 94.2 85.0 9.1 2.0 3.7 1.2 2.5
16–20 years 99,100 95.4 92.9 84.5 8.5 2.3 4.7 2.6 2.1
21–25 years 82,000 93.3 91.5 82.8 8.7 1.8 6.7 5.4 1.3
More than 25 years 254,500 71.0 68.8 54.3 14.4 2.3 29.0 27.9 1.0

D = suppressed to avoid disclosure of confidential information.

SEH = science, engineering, and health.

aBased on count of all doctorate recipients.

NOTES: Numbers represent weighted counts, rounded to the nearest 100. Designation of full-time and part-time employment status is based on principal job only, not on all jobs held in labor force. Full-time employed persons are those working at least 35 hours per week at their principal job. Part-time employed persons are those working fewer than 35 hours per week.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2010.

Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

Retirement and part-time work status differed by years since doctorate award. Those who earned their doctorates more than 25 years ago were, as expected, more likely to be retired and out of the labor force (27.9% in 2010) and more likely to be working part time (14.4%) than were younger cohorts (table 2).[5] In contrast, years since doctorate award had no significant relationship with the unemployment rate.[6]

Demographics

Women continue to represent a growing share of doctorate holders, rising to 31.5% of all SEH doctorate holders in October 2010, from 30.2% in October 2008 and 29.0% in April 2006. In 2010, the labor force participation rate among SEH doctorate holders was 88.9% for women, compared with 87.7% for men (table 3). Female SEH doctorate holders were less likely than their male counterparts to be employed full time in 2010 (72.4% of women, 77.9% of men) and more likely not to be seeking work (4.3% of women, 0.8% of men). Female SEH doctorate holders, who as a group are younger than male SEH doctorate holders, were also less likely than their male counterparts to be retired (6.7% of women, 11.5% of men). In contrast, the proportions of men (2.0%) and women (2.1%) who reported themselves as unemployed in October 2010 were not significantly different.

TABLE 3. Employment status of scientists and engineers with U.S. doctoral degrees, by sex, ethnicity, race, and citizenship: 2010
(Percent)
In labor force Not in labor force
Working for pay or profit
Sex ethnicity race and citizenship Total (number) All All
working
Full
time
Part
time
Unemployeda All Retired Not working, not seeking work
All U.S. SEH doctorate holders 805,500 88.1 86.0 76.1 9.9 2.1 11.9 10.0 1.9
Sex
Male 551,700 87.7 85.7 77.9 7.8 2.0 12.3 11.5 0.8
Female 253,700 88.9 86.8 72.4 14.4 2.1 11.1 6.7 4.3
Ethnicity and race
Hispanic or Latino 25,800 93.0 91.1 81.8 8.9 1.9 7.0 5.0 1.9
Not Hispanic or Latino 779,700 87.9 85.9 76.0 9.9 2.1 12.1 10.2 1.9
American Indian or Alaska Native 1,700 88.2 88.2 76.5 11.8 D 5.9 D D
Asian 147,500 93.6 91.3 86.4 4.7 2.3 6.4 4.7 1.7
Black or African American 24,500 93.9 91.0 80.4 11.0 2.4 6.1 4.9 1.2
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 900 88.9 88.9 77.8 11.1 D 11.1 D 11.1
White 596,300 86.2 84.2 73.1 11.1 2.0 13.8 11.8 1.9
More than one race 8,800 93.2 89.8 79.5 10.2 2.3 6.8 4.5 2.3
Citizenship
U.S. citizen or permanent resident 775,300 87.7 85.6 75.4 10.2 2.1 12.3 10.4 1.9
Temporary visa holder 30,200 98.3 97.4 95.4 2.0 1.0 1.7 D 1.3

D = suppressed to avoid disclosure of confidential information.

SEH = science, engineering, and health.

aBased on the count of all doctorate recipients.

NOTES: Numbers represent weighted counts, rounded to the nearest 100. Designation of full-time and part-time employment status is based on principal job only, not on all jobs held in labor force. Full-time employed persons are those working at least 35 hours per week at their principal job. Part-time employed persons are those working fewer than 35 hours per week. Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin may be of any race.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2010.

Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

Underrepresented minorities—racial and ethnic groups whose representation in science, engineering, and health fields is smaller than their representation in the U.S. population; namely, American Indians or Alaska Natives, blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, and individuals reporting more than one race—collectively constituted 7.7% of all SEH doctorate recipients (derived from table 3). A majority of the SEH doctoral population was white (74.0%), followed by Asian (18.3%). The percentage of Hispanics or Latinos who were employed full time was higher than the percentage of all others employed full time (81.8% versus 76.0%). Among those who are not Hispanic or Latino, Asian doctorate holders exhibited a higher level of full-time employment (86.4%) than blacks or African Americans (80.4%), whites (73.1%), and those who reported more than one race (79.5%). Whites were more likely to be retired (11.8%) than Hispanics or Latinos (5.0%), Asians (4.7%), blacks or African Americans (4.9%), and those reporting more than one race (4.5%) (table 3), reflecting the younger ages of the individuals in the SEH doctoral population who are not white.[7]

In 2010, 3.7% of the SEH doctoral population held temporary visas (derived from table 3). As might be expected based on U.S. visa requirements, almost all of these individuals (97.4%) were working full or part time; a small fraction was not in the labor force in October 2010 (1.7%).

Sector

Four-year educational institutions employed 41.8% of all working SEH doctorate recipients in 2010. Private for-profit firms employed the next-largest share of the doctoral workforce at 32.3% of the total (derived from table 4). Employment in 4-year educational institutions was most common for doctorate recipients in the social sciences (62.1%). Employment in private for-profit firms was most prevalent for doctorate recipients in the field of engineering (56.9%) (derived from table 4).

TABLE 4. Employed scientists and engineers with U.S. doctoral degrees, by employment sector and field of doctorate: 2010
Employment sector
Field of doctorate All employed 4-year educational institutiona Private
for-profitb
Private
non-profit
Federal government State or local government Self-employedc Otherd
All SEH fields 692,900 289,400 223,900 45,100 48,700 17,300 41,700 26,800
Biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences 175,700 83,500 46,400 14,200 15,600 4,100 5,700 6,200
Computer and information sciences 19,000 7,400 9,400 700 600 100 500 300
Mathematics and statistics 32,000 18,100 9,000 1,300 1,300 300 700 1,300
Physical sciences 120,100 42,500 49,800 6,300 9,700 2,300 4,500 5,000
Psychology 102,400 34,100 20,700 9,800 6,000 5,200 20,200 6,400
Social sciences 87,000 54,000 10,900 5,400 5,100 2,400 4,300 4,900
Engineering 125,500 33,000 71,400 4,400 8,200 2,300 4,500 1,600
Health 31,200 16,800 6,200 3,000 2,300 700 1,100 1,100

SEH = science, engineering, and health.

a Includes 4-year colleges or universities, medical schools (including university-affiliated hospitals or medical centers), and university-affiliated research institutes.
b Includes those self-employed in an incorporated business.
c Self-employed or business owner in a nonincorporated business.
d Includes 2-year colleges, community colleges, technical institutes, other precollege institutions, and employers not broken out separately.

NOTE: Numbers represent weighted counts, rounded to the nearest 100.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2010.

Table 4 Source Data: Excel file

Data Sources and Availability

Comparative terms in this InfoBrief (e.g., higher, more or less likely, differ, increase) are based on statistical tests for significant differences at the 95% level. Percentage comparisons in this report are based on unrounded estimates and may differ from percentages calculated from the rounded estimates displayed in the tables.

The ethnicity and race categories reported here are mutually exclusive. Hispanic or Latino ethnicity refers to all individuals who reported Hispanic or Latino origin regardless of racial background. The estimates on racial backgrounds refer to individuals who were not of Hispanic or Latino origin and who reported only one racial background. Individuals who reported more than one racial background are shown as a separate group.

Data in this InfoBrief are from the SDR, a biennial longitudinal survey of individuals who earned doctoral degrees in SEH fields from U.S. institutions. A sample of doctorate recipients is followed throughout their careers until they reach age 76, and the panel is refreshed each survey cycle with a sample of recent doctoral graduates. The SDR has been conducted since 1973 and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health.

The 2010 SDR provides data from 31,462 responding sample members (80% response rate), representing an estimated 805,500 SEH doctorate recipients in the United States. Historically, the SDR sample included only U.S.-degreed doctorate recipients residing or working in the United States on the survey reference date. In 2003, NSF initiated a feasibility study to include U.S.-degreed doctorate recipients located outside of the United States (i.e., an international sample). From 2003 to 2008, individuals selected for the international sample were considered ineligible for the survey if they were located in the United States. Beginning in 2010, an integrated sample design was implemented, allowing international sample members who were found in the United States to be considered eligible for the survey and counted among the national sample. Once developed, this integrated approach was also applied to the 2008 SDR data, resulting in the revised estimates shown in table 1.

Detailed data tables from the 2010 SDR are forthcoming at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/doctoratework/.[8] Please contact Lynn Milan for more information. Data from the SDR are also available in the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT) at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/sestat/.

Notes

[1] Carolina Milesi and Lance A. Selfa are with NORC at the University of Chicago. For more information, contact Lynn M. Milan, Human Resources Statistics Program, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (lmilan@nsf.gov; 703-292-2275).

[2] Counts in this InfoBrief represent weighted numbers rounded to the nearest 100. The standard error of the overall doctoral population of 805,500 is 950 (rounded up to the nearest 50). As such, the true number of doctorate recipients with U.S. doctoral degrees living in the United States in October 2010 is estimated (at a 95% confidence interval) to be between 803,600 and 807,400. For a listing of science, engineering, and health fields included in the 2008 Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), see appendix table B-1 at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf13302/. The estimated 2008 doctoral population count used in this InfoBrief reflects the integration of the SDR’s international component. Therefore, the count is slightly higher than the previously reported estimate. See further details in the Data Sources and Availability section.

[3] Although the 2010 unemployment rate of 2.4% appears to be the highest in a decade, it does not differ in a statistically significant way from the 2003 rate of 2.1%.

[4] Unemployment statistics for the general population aged 25 years or older are published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and were obtained from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_11052010.pdf on 22 October 2012. The civilian unemployment rate for the population aged 16 years or older in October 2010 was 9.5%, which is available at http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000 (accessed on 26 April 2013). Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work.

[5] The length of time since doctorate receipt is associated with age: the median age of those with more than 25 years since doctorate receipt is 65 years, and the median age of those with 25 or fewer years since doctorate receipt is 45 years.

[6] Two measures of unemployment are used in this InfoBrief: (1) the unemployment rate as noted in table 1, which is based on the count of doctorate recipients in the labor force, and (2) the percentage unemployed as noted in table 2 and 3, which is based on the count of all doctorate recipients, regardless of whether they are in the labor force.

[7] Because of the small sizes of the populations of (1) American Indians or Alaska Natives and (2) Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, statistically reliable comparisons between these two groups and others were not possible.

[8] Results from the 2013 SDR are expected to be available by the summer of 2014.


National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Unemployment among Doctoral Scientists and Engineers Increased but Remained Below the National Average
Arlington, VA (NSF 14-310) [April 2014]


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