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Chapter 3. Science and Engineering Labor Force


Chapter Overview

Like most developed economies, the United States increasingly depends on a technically skilled workforce, including scientists and engineers. Workers for whom knowledge and skill in S&E are central to their jobs have an effect on the economy and the wider society that is disproportionate to their numbers: they contribute to research and development, increased knowledge, technological innovation, and economic growth. Moreover, the knowledge and skills associated with science and engineering have diffused across occupations and become more important in jobs that are not traditionally associated with S&E.

Chapter Organization

This chapter has five major sections. The first describes different measures of the U.S. S&E workforce by occupation, education, and technical expertise needed on the job. It also presents a discussion of the size and growth of the S&E workforce.

The second section examines employment patterns. This includes discussion of the types of jobs that S&E degree holders have, where they work, and what they do on the job.

S&E labor force demographics are the subject of the third section. Topics include the age distribution and retirement patterns of the S&E labor force, trends in the participation of women and underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities, and the continuing importance of foreign-born, and often foreign-educated, scientists and engineers.

The fourth section presents measures of recent S&E labor market conditions. It includes measures of earnings and unemployment, indicators which are applicable to all segments of the labor market. In addition, it reports data on the proportion of S&E-trained workers who are involuntarily working outside of their field. Because highly educated S&E workers often prefer, but cannot always find, work that uses knowledge and skills related to their education, variations in this measure can be a valuable indicator of labor market conditions for these workers. For recent S&E doctoral recipients, data on academic employment and postdoc appointments are also presented.

High-quality data on the global S&E labor force are quite sparse. The available data are presented in the final section. It includes data on the growth in S&E human capital across most of the globe and on the increasing importance of international movements of highly skilled workers to developed nations and elsewhere. This section also includes a more detailed discussion of the globalization of the U.S. S&E workforce, about which there are relatively more complete data.


Science and Engineering Indicators 2010   Arlington, VA (NSB 10-01) | January 2010