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International Mobility and Employment Characteristics among Recent Recipients of U.S. Doctorates

NSF 13-300 | October 2012 | PDF format. PDF  
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by Wan-Ying Chang and Lynn M. Milan[1]

The proportion of foreign nationals among individuals who earned a research doctorate in science, engineering, or health (SEH) in the United States has followed a general upward trend since 1960 (figure 1). Foreign citizens' share of U.S.-earned doctorates in SEH was about 17% during 1961–70 and by 2010 had reached nearly 40%.

FIGURE 1. U.S. research doctorates awarded in science, engineering, or health, by citizenship: 1960–2010.

              Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

At the time of their graduation, most foreign recipients of U.S. doctorates planned to stay in the United States.[2]

Employment characteristics among doctorate recipients are closely related to degree fields and may vary by the location of employment. A large majority (93.5%) of the recent (2001–07) recipients of SEH doctorates who reported working as of 1 October 2008 were working full time.

Data in this InfoBrief are from the 2008 Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR) and the 2010 Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED).[3]

International Mobility

Among recent doctoral graduates (academic years 2001–07) holding a temporary U.S. resident visa, 73.3% reported in the SED that their immediate postgraduation plan was to live in the United States after receiving their degree. However, a significant proportion (23.4%) planned to seek opportunities for employment and postdoctoral (postdoc) study outside the United States. (The remaining 3.3% did not report postgraduation intended location.) In some cases, despite their initial intent to stay, foreign nationals changed their postgraduation plans and left the United States.

Postgraduation Plans versus Actual Outcomes

The current location of residency reported in the 2008 SDR was compared with the location of postgraduation plans reported in the SED at the time of graduation for the recent doctoral graduates. Overall, 85.7% of recent doctoral graduates reported living in the United States (including Puerto Rico or another U.S. territory) on the SDR reference date of 1 October 2008 (table 1). Among foreign-born graduates who were holding a temporary U.S. visa at the time of graduation, 67.5% reported living in the United States on the 2008 SDR reference date. Within this group of temporary visa holders, the 2001–03 SDR cohorts, when combined, reported a lower stay rate (60.8%) than did the more recent 2004–07 SDR cohorts (71.0%). The 2001–03 SDR cohorts also had a higher rate of leaving the United States despite having plans to stay (16.0%) than did the 2004–07 SDR cohorts (7.9%). The 2001–03 SDR cohorts correspond to doctorate recipients who graduated at least 5 years before the 2008 SDR reference date. One possible factor of the higher emigration rate of the 2001–03 SDR cohorts among those initially planning to stay is that these doctorate recipients stay only temporarily to gain postgraduation experience in the United States before leaving the country.

TABLE 1. Reported location in 2008 of recent doctoral graduates, by citizenship status, postgraduation plan, and year of doctoral degree: 2001–07
(Percent)
Characteristics All years 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
All doctorate recipients 203,400 26,900 26,200 26,200 27,300 31,100 31,000 34,600
Living in United States 85.7 86.0 85.4 83.3 85.5 85.0 86.6 87.0
Planned to live in United States 78.6 78.6 77.2 76.2 77.1 79.8 80.3 79.8
Planned to live abroad 2.1 2.2 2.1 2.8 2.9 1.5 2.0 1.6
Living abroad 14.3 13.7 14.6 16.7 14.5 15.0 13.4 13.0
Planned to live in United States 5.2 6.6 5.7 8.2 4.7 4.7 4.6 3.1
Planned to live abroad 8.1 6.6 7.7 7.9 9.1 8.5 7.6 8.8
All doctorate recipients with a temporary U.S. visa 73,400 8,300 8,300 8,700 9,800 12,100 12,200 14,200
Living in United States 67.5 62.3 61.6 58.5 66.9 68.4 73.3 73.9
Planned to live in United States 61.3 55.8 56.2 53.0 59.2 63.4 67.7 66.5
Planned to live abroad 3.0 3.4 2.6 4.4 3.8 2.6 2.2 2.4
Living abroad 32.5 37.7 38.4 41.5 33.1 31.6 26.7 26.1
Planned to live in United States 10.7 15.9 13.5 18.4 9.2 8.8 7.8 6.4
Planned to live abroad 19.6 20.1 21.8 21.4 22.2 20.0 16.7 17.4

NOTE: Location of recent doctoral graduates (living in United States or abroad) who received doctorate in 2001–07 was reported as of 2008 Survey of Doctorate Recipients reference date of 1 October 2008.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation/National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2008.

Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

Popular International Destinations

To study the mobility of recent doctoral graduates, we compared their country of origin to their country of current residency, as reported in the 2008 SDR. Country of origin was defined as the country of citizenship recent doctoral graduates reported in the SED at the time of graduation.[4] Country of current residency was defined as the country of current employment for those who reported working (96.2%) and the country where they were located for those who reported not working (3.8%).

Overall, 20.4% of foreign-citizen graduates reported working or living in their country of origin in 2008, whereas 96.6% of U.S.-citizen graduates reported working or living in the United States. Among foreign graduates who did not return to their country of origin, the United States was the most popular destination, with 88.9% reporting living in the United States. For this group, the European Union was the second most popular destination (3.7%), and Asia and Canada tied for third (2.7% and 2.6%, respectively). Table 2 gives the relative proportions of seven destinations for each country or region of origin. Foreign graduates from China, countries that were part of the former Soviet Union, and India reported distinctly low rates of returning to their home countries (3.7%, 4.1%, and 5.2%, respectively) compared with those from other foreign countries.

TABLE 2. Recent doctoral graduates' country or region of origin, by country or region of current employment or residency: 2008
(Percent)
Country or region of current employment or residency
Country or region of origin Country or region of origin (% distribution) United States Asia European
Union
Canada Central and
South America
Africa Other Return to home countrya
All 100.0 85.9 6.9 2.9 1.6 1.4 0.4 1.0 65.1
United States 58.7 96.6 0.6 1.5 0.6 0.1 0.2 0.4 96.6
China 10.8 93.1 4.4 0.5 1.7 D D 0.3 3.7
European Union 4.7 66.9 1.2 26.7 1.3 D D 3.4 16.6
India 4.2 87.9 5.6 2.5 2.8 D D D 5.2
South Korea 3.7 53.9 45.0 D D D D D 43.5
Turkey 1.6 55.2 37.7 4.5 D D D D 37.3
Taiwan 1.6 51.6 44.9 D D D D D 42.5
Canada 1.5 66.6 D D 30.7 D D D 30.7
Other Asian countries 5.1 49.6 45.1 1.5 2.5 D D 1.1 41.6
Former Soviet Union 1.2 83.5 D 4.1 7.0 D D 5.4 4.1
South America 1.9 47.7 D 5.3 2.4 43.2 D D 40.2
Central America 0.8 42.4 D D 3.4 48.2 D D 48.2
Africa 1.3 74.2 2.9 D 3.6 D 17.9 D 15.9
All other non—United States 3.0 64.7 12.7 6.6 3.9 2.8 D 8.8 6.3

D = suppressed to avoid disclosure of confidential information.

a Country of current employment or residency is same as country of origin.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation/National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2008.

Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

Relationship between Degree Field and Emigration

For this and the remaining analyses in this InfoBrief, recent doctoral graduates were divided into four groups (hereafter, analysis groups) defined by U.S. citizenship status at the time of graduation (U.S. citizen or non-U.S. citizen) and their reported residency on the SDR reference date of 1 October 2008:[5]

  1. U.S. citizens residing in the United States (estimated population = 114,700),
  2. Foreign citizens residing in the United States (estimated population = 59,200),[6]
  3. Foreign citizens residing abroad (estimated population = 24,500), and
  4. U.S. citizens residing abroad (estimated population = 4,000).

Statistical reports show that foreign recipients of U.S. SEH doctoral degrees focus on different fields of study as compared with their U.S. counterparts.[7] The distributions of overall percentages, by broad field of degree and analysis group, are shown in figure 2. Foreign citizens with degrees in psychology, the social sciences, or health were more likely to leave the United States after graduating than were those with degrees in all the other fields combined (45.7% vs. 25.9%).

FIGURE 2. Distribution of field of degree, by citizenship at the time of graduation and current residency: 2008.

              Figure 2 Source Data: Excel file

Employment Characteristics

Employment Sector

Four-year educational institutions formed the largest employment sector for all analysis groups with the exception of foreign citizens in the United States, who reported working in private, for-profit industry and in 4-year institutions in equally high proportions (43.5%) (figure 3). In fact, foreign citizens working in the United States were more likely than any of the other analysis groups to report working in the private, for-profit sector. Across the four analysis groups, foreign citizens working abroad reported the highest rate of working in a 4-year university or institution (61.7%), whereas U.S. citizens working abroad reported the highest rate of working in the government sector (20.5%).

FIGURE 3. Distribution of employment sector, by citizenship at time of graduation and current residency: 2008.

              Figure 3 Source Data: Excel file

Primary Work Activity

Within 4-year educational institutions, the private, for-profit sector, and government, foreign citizens working in the United States reported higher rates of performing research (basic or applied) and development as their primary work activity than did U.S. citizens working in the United States and foreign citizens working abroad (table 3). U.S. citizens who were working abroad in 4-year institutions reported the highest rate among the analysis groups of working in basic or applied research. (It should be noted, however, that the analysis group of U.S. citizens working abroad has sufficient sample size to provide estimates only for the 4-year institution sector.) In the private, nonprofit sector, the two foreign citizen analysis groups reported similar proportions of having research (basic or applied) and development as their primary activity and had higher rates than the group of U.S. citizens working in the United States.

TABLE 3. Top-ranking primary work activities, by selected employment sectors, citizenship at time of graduation, and current residency: 2008
U.S. citizen in United States Foreign citizen in United States Foreign citizen abroad
Employment sector Activity Percent Activity Percent Activity Percent
4-year educational institution Teaching 40.3 Basic research 36.4 Teaching 40.7
Basic research 23.4 Applied research 25.4 Basic research 26.5
Applied research 18.1 Teaching 24.9 Applied research 18.7
Managing/supervising 6.3 Managing/supervising 6.1
Professional services 6.3
Private, for-profit Applied research 29.9 Applied research 28.8 Applied research 29.2
Managing/supervising 15.1 Development 27.5 Managing/supervising 19.4
Professional services 14.8 Computer applications 12.9 Development 18.7
Development 14.3 Design 9.3 Computer applications 7.1
Computer applications 5.9 Managing/supervising 7.1 Professional services 5.9
Government Applied research 32.8 Applied research 46.3 Applied research 34.4
Professional services 19.3 Basic research 30.9 Basic research 31.2
Managing/supervising 14.2 Development 6.1 Managing/supervising 14.7
Basic research 13.9 Development 6.0
Private, nonprofit Applied research 26.5 Basic research 40.2 Applied research 49.6
Professional services 22.8 Applied research 27.4 Managing/supervising 15.2
Basic research 17.4 Professional services 10.9 Basic research 15.0
Managing/supervising 15.6 Managing/supervising 7.8 Development 12.3
Other 5.1 Development 6.3

NOTES: Primary work activity is activity that occupied most working hours during typical week on one's principal job. Activities shown include only those reported by at least 5% of graduates in each subpopulation defined by employment sector and citizenship/residency group. More detailed descriptions of type of work activities are in questionnaire. Group of U.S. citizens abroad is not included due to insufficient sample size.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation/National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2008.

Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

Academic Positions

Among all recent doctoral graduates, 49.2% reported working in a 4-year university, medical school, or university-affiliated research institute. Of these, 51.4% reported holding a teaching or teaching and research faculty position, 15.8% reported holding a research-only faculty position, and 20.5% reported holding a postdoc position. The distribution of type of academic position within each analysis group is shown in figure 4. The two analysis groups working outside of their home countries (i.e., foreign citizens working in the United States and U.S. citizens working abroad) reported the highest rates of holding postdoc positions.

FIGURE 4. Distribution of academic positions for those employed in 4-year institutions, medical schools, or university-affiliated research institutes, by U.S. citizenship at the time of graduation and current residency: 2008.

              Figure 4 Source Data: Excel file

Postdoctoral Positions

Among all employment sectors, the proportion of doctorate recipients holding a postdoc position on the SDR reference date of 1 October 2008 was highest for the most recent graduates, as might be expected (figure 5). To test for statistically significant differences among the four analysis groups, data were combined from the three latest degree years (2005–07), and the postdoc proportions were compared. Among U.S. citizens working abroad, 44.1% reported holding a postdoc position, which was significantly higher than all other analysis groups. Among the remaining three analysis groups, 26.5% of foreign citizens working in the United States reported holding a postdoc position, which is higher than the rates reported by U.S. citizens working in the United States (21.7%) and foreign citizens working abroad (15.2%).

FIGURE 5. Proportion holding a postdoctoral position on 1 October 2008, by degree year, citizenship at time of graduation, and current residency: 2001–07.

              Figure 5 Source Data: Excel file

Annual Salary

An estimated median annual salary was calculated for the subset of full-time employed doctorate recipients within each analysis group, by broad degree field and employment sector, whenever sufficient sample size was available (table 4).[8] Those working outside the United States were asked to convert their annual salary to U.S. dollars. The estimated median salaries for foreign citizens working abroad were lower, in general, than the other three analysis groups. The estimated median salaries of the two groups working in the United States tended to be similar. In cases where these two groups had different median salaries, the group of U.S. citizens working in the United States had a higher salary than the group of foreign citizens working in the United States except for in the fields of social science in academic settings and in all sectors combined and health in all sectors combined.

TABLE 4. Median annual salary of doctorate recipients employed full time, by broad field of doctorate, employment sector, and citizenship/residency group: 2008
(U.S. dollars)
Broad field of doctorate Employment sector U.S. citizen working in United States (group 1) Foreign citizen working in United States (group 2) Foreign citizen working abroad (group 3) U.S. citizen working abroad (group 4)
Biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences All sectors 60,000 52,000 * 35,000 ** 45,000 ***
4-year institution 51,000 45,000 * 30,000 ** 52,000
Private, for-profit 86,000 89,000 55,000 ** S
Government 68,000 52,000 * 36,000 ** S
Computer and information sciences All sectors 95,000 87,000 * 43,000 ** S
4-year institution 81,000 79,000 38,000 ** S
Private, for-profit 120,000 103,000 * 59,000 * S
Mathematics and statistics All sectors 70,000 75,000 40,000 ** S
4-year institution 59,000 59,000 34,000 ** S
Private, for-profit 101,000 99,000 77,000 ** S
Physical sciences All sectors 72,000 72,000 49,000 ** 55,000 ***
4-year institution 55,000 50,000 * 45,000 * 54,000
Private, for-profit 95,000 94,000 59,000 ** S
Government 74,000 70,000 45,000 ** S
Psychology All sectors 65,000 55,000 * 50,000 57,000
4-year institution 58,000 55,000 * 48,000 S
Social sciences All sectors 64,000 74,000 * 59,000 ** 63,000
4-year institution 60,000 69,000 * 50,000 ** 58,000
Private, for-profit 92,000 104,000 80,000 S
Government 86,000 83,000 60,000 ** S
Engineering All sectors 95,000 89,000 * 50,000 ** 60,000 ***
4-year institution 77,000 73,000 35,000 ** S
Private, for-profit 102,000 95,000 * 64,000 ** S
Government 100,000 71,000 * 48,000 ** S
Health All sectors 77,000 83,000 * 36,000 ** S
4-year institution 73,000 73,000 37,000 ** S
Private, for-profit 101,000 94,000 S S
Government 88,000 78,000 * S S

* = estimate differs statistically from that of group 1 only; ** = estimate differs statistically from that of groups 1 and 2; *** = estimate differs statistically from that of groups 1, 2, and 3; † = estimate differs statistically from that of group 2 only; S = suppressed for reliability or confidentiality.

NOTES: Citizenship is as of graduation date. Salaries are rounded to nearest thousand.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation/National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2008.

Table 4 Source Data: Excel file

Data Sources and Limitations

Data presented in this report are from the 2008 SDR and 2010 SED. The SDR has been conducted every 2 years since 1973 and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies on an occasional basis. The SED, also sponsored by NSF and other federal agencies, provides the sample frame for the SDR. The SED is a census of all individuals who earn a research doctorate from a U.S. educational institution in a given academic year (1 July of one year through 30 June of the following year).

The SDR is a longitudinal study of individuals who received a research doctorate degree from a U.S. institution in an SEH field. The survey follows a sample of individuals throughout their careers from the year of their degree award through age 75. The SDR has historically reported only on doctorate recipients who resided in the United States on the survey reference date. In 2003 NSF initiated a feasibility study to extend the coverage of the SDR to include U.S.-trained doctorate recipients residing or working outside the United States. After the success of the 2003 study and a more extensive pilot study in the 2006 SDR, the 2008 SDR was the first round to include a representative international sample for the cohort of doctorate recipients who graduated during academic years 2001–07. The weighted response rate for the national component of the 2008 SDR was 81%, and the response rate for the international component was 68%.

Comparative terms in this report—such as increased/decreased, differed, more/less likely, and higher/lower—are based on statistical tests for significant differences at the 95% level. Percentage comparisons in this report are based on unrounded counts.

Notes

[1]  Wan-Ying Chang (corresponding author: wchang@nsf.gov; 703-292-2310), Office of the Director, and Lynn M. Milan (lmilan@nsf.gov; 703-292-2275), Human Resources Statistics Program, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230.

[2]  National Science Board (NSB). 2010. Science and Engineering Indicators 2010. Pages 2-29–2-30. NSB 10-01. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind/.

[3]  InfoBrief focuses on data from 2008 Survey of Doctorate Recipients, which includes as its most recent graduates those who earned degrees in academic year 2007 or earlier.

[4]  If country of citizenship was not reported in Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), other SED or Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR) data were used to infer citizenship (e.g., country of birthplace, country of high school attended, and indication of whether U.S. born). Of 10,190 sampled individuals from academic years 2001–07, total of 99 individuals had unknown citizenship at time of graduation. Of these, 53 individuals had citizenship imputed from other SED or SDR data, and 46 individuals whose citizenship could not be imputed were excluded from all analyses requiring known country of origin.

[5]  Sample sizes for each of four analysis groups are as follows: (1) U.S. citizens residing in United States = 5,411; (2) foreign citizens residing in United States = 2,748; (3) foreign citizens residing abroad = 1,813; and (4) U.S. citizens residing abroad = 172.

[6]  Foreign citizens residing in United States includes both those with permanent U.S. resident visas and those with temporary U.S. resident visas.

[7]  National Science Board (NSB). 2012. Science and Engineering Indicators 2012. Pages 2-28–2-31. NSB 12-01. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind/.

[8]  Full-time employed doctorate recipients are defined as those who reported working at least 35 hours during typical week on principal job.


National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
International Mobility and Employment Characteristics among Recent Recipients of U.S. Doctorates
Arlington, VA (NSF 13-300) [September 2012]


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