NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Directorate for Social, Behavioral
and Economic Sciences
NSF 99-327 February 11, 1999
Burton and Jack
How Much Does the U.S. Rely on
Current data suggest that while the number of immigrant engineers in the U.S. has increased over the years, their percentage of working engineers has changed hardly at all.
In the past, higher percentages of immigrants who became engineers in the United States had finished their formal education abroad compared to more recent immigrant engineers.
As of April 1995, about 15 percent of working U.S. scientists, and 17 percent of working U.S. engineers, were non-native born.,  These percentages significantly exceeded the 10 percent of the total U.S. employed population aged 25 and older that was born abroad. This Issue Brief discusses further data on nativity of U.S. engineers, who make up almost 50 percent of the nation's science and engineering workforce (table 1).
As shown in table 2, the ratio of native-born to non-native-born engineers is the same-about five to one-across 10-year age groups. By contrast, increasingly large numbers of persons born abroad have become engineers in the United States over the decades. While these cross-sectional data reveal nothing about changes of individuals over time, they can be used to infer changes about the population that have occurred over time. Even allowing for some switching by non-natives from engineering to other occupations, and for some emigration back to their native countries in older age groups, the data in table 2 suggest that, along with growth in the profession overall, the total number of U.S. engineers born abroad has increased sharply over recent decades. But the percentage of immigrant engineers was about the same when viewed across 10-year age groups of working engineers in 1995. In short, current data suggest that while the number of immigrant engineers in the U.S. has increased over the years, their percentage of working engineers has changed hardly at all.
Table 2 shows that immigrant engineers have more often gone on to obtain a master's or doctorate degree than their representation in the occupation of engineering would suggest. Table 3 displays the highest degree levels of non-native engineers by age. Overall, 53 percent of non-native versus 29 percent of native-born engineers have attained a postbaccalaureate degree. In all age groups including the youngest-many of whose members have not finished their education-non-native engineers have reached higher levels of education than their native-born colleagues.
Table 4 shows a sharp increase from older to younger groups in the percentage of engineers born abroad who earned their most recent or highest degree in the United States. This pattern suggests the speculation that younger immigrant engineers have taken a quite different route into U.S. engineering practice than their older colleagues: more often, they have come to the United States to obtain or finish their education and have subsequently become practicing engineers. In the past, larger percentages of immigrants who became engineers in the United States had finished their formal education abroad. The table also shows that the higher their degree level, the higher the proportion of immigrant engineers who earned that degree at a U.S. college or university.
Figure 1 shows that the parents of older engineers were much less likely than those of younger engineers to have obtained a college degree. Thus, among engineers 50 years and older, less than one-fourth of native-born engineers, and about one-third of non-native-born engineers, had at least one parent with a baccalaureate or higher degree. Sharp increases in parental education are evident in each younger cohort, especially among the baby boomers aged 30-49. The percentage of native-born engineers in their 30s with at least one parent with a 4-year degree was twice as high as for those in their 50s. And in contrast to older engineers, native-born engineers in younger cohorts are about as likely as immigrant engineers to come from parents who have already attained the socioeconomic status that a 4-year degree brings.
This Issue Brief was prepared by:
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 Lawrence Burton is a senior analyst in the National Science Foundation's Division of Science Resources Studies; Jack Wang is a Research Associate at Westat, Inc.
 In this Issue Brief, data on engineers are from the 1995 system of surveys referred to as SESTAT, the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System of the Division of Science Resources Studies, NSF. SESTAT estimates, which are obtained from individuals who identify their occupations, may differ from estimates of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which relies on employers to identify job classifications. In this Issue Brief,
- "non-native born" refers to survey respondents who did not identify themselves as native-born U.S. citizens;
- "engineers" are those people who identified their principal occupation as "engineer," some of whom are students;
- data refer to people who have obtained a baccalaureate or higher degree; and
- data are as of April, 1995; engineers who entered the U.S. after 1990, and did not obtain a degree in the U.S. between 1990 and 1995, are not covered in the data.
For further details on the population discussed and the surveys used to measure this population, see the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT) at http://sestat.nsf.gov.
 All comparisons made in the text of this Issue Brief are statistically significant at the .95 confidence level.
 U.S. Bureau of the Census, March 1995 Current Population Survey, table 1, Selected Characteristics of the Population by Citizenship: 1995, released April 1997, at http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/foreign/95/95tab-1.txt.
 Some engineers have not finished their formal education; thus, the degree referred to here is their most recent, not necessarily their last, degree.
 See, e.g., Lipset, Seymour Martin, Social Mobility in Industrial Society. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964, pp. 189-199.