Who earns a U.S. doctorate?
Each new cohort of doctorate recipients augments the supply of prospective scientists, engineers, researchers, and scholars. Data on the changing demographic composition of these cohorts reveal underutilized groups.
Doctorates awarded by U.S. colleges and universities: 1958–2011
The number of research doctorates awarded since the inception of the survey in 1958 shows an upward trend over time—average annual growth of 3.4%—punctuated by a few single-year declines and two periods (1974–78 and 2001–02) of multi-year declines.
The number of science and engineering (S&E) doctorates has nearly doubled since the mid-1970s, whereas the number of doctorates in non-S&E fields has not grown over that period. In 2011, almost three-quarters of all research doctorates were awarded in S&E fields. The number of doctorates awarded in S&E fields increased 4.0% from 2010 to 2011, and the number of doctorates awarded in non-S&E fields declined 3.1% during the same period (the decline in non-S&E doctorates awarded was attributable to the reclassification of most Doctor of Education degrees as professional rather than research doctorates; see the online technical appendix to this report for more information).
Doctorates awarded in science and engineering fields, by citizenship: 1991–2011
In 1991, 32% of all S&E doctorates were awarded to temporary visa holders. Since then, the growth in numbers of S&E doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders has nearly equaled the growth in doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The proportion of S&E doctorate recipients holding temporary visas peaked at 41% in 2007 and has declined to 36% in 2011.
Temporary visa holders are more likely to earn a doctorate in an S&E field than are doctorate recipients who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Over the period 2001 to 2011, 84% of the doctorates earned by temporary visa holders were in S&E fields, compared with 63% of doctorates earned by U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Top 10 countries/economies of foreign citizenship for U.S. doctorate recipients: Total, 2001–11
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2011. Related detailed data: tables 25, 26.
Countries/economies of foreign citizenship
Ten countries accounted for 70% of the doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders from 2001 to 2011, and the top three—China, India, and South Korea—accounted for half. The share of doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders from these three countries jumped from 43% in 2001 to 53% in 2006 and remained near that higher level through the remainder of the period.
Sex and citizenship of U.S. doctorate recipients: 1991–2011
Women are becoming increasingly prevalent with each new cohort of doctorate recipients. The share of doctorates awarded to women increased from 37% in 1991 to 46% in 2011.
Women earned a majority of all doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents each year since 2002, and they earned one-third of all doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders over that period. The total number of male doctorate recipients increased every year from 2002 until 2009, with most of this growth attributable to increasing numbers of male temporary visa holders. The number of male and female doctorate recipients increased in 2011 after a single-year decline in 2010, among both temporary visa holders and U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Sex and field of study of U.S. doctorate recipients: 1991–2011
Sex: Field of study
Most of the growth in the number of doctorates earned by women has been in S&E fields. Women earned 42% of S&E doctorates awarded in 2011, up from 30% in 1991. Doctorates in S&E fields account entirely for the increase in doctorates earned by men overall, as the number of men earning doctorates in non-S&E fields fell over that period. The numbers of male and female doctorate recipients in S&E fields both grew in 2011, whereas the numbers of male and female doctorate recipients in non-S&E fields both declined.
Doctorates earned by members of U.S. underrepresented minorities: 1991–2011
Race and ethnicity
The share of doctorates earned by underrepresented minority U.S. citizens and permanent residents continues to grow, owing to a 67% increase in the number of doctorates awarded to blacks or African Americans over the past 20 years and a more than doubling of Hispanic or Latino doctorate recipients. The proportion of doctorates awarded to blacks has risen from 4.2% in 1991 to 6.1% in 2011, and the proportion awarded to Hispanics or Latinos has risen from 3.2% in 1991 to 6.3% in 2011.