This section describes the distribution of members of the S&E labor force in the economy. In view of the disjunction between S&E occupations and S&E degrees, this discussion begins with an analysis of data on the educational characteristics of those in S&E occupations and the occupations of workers with S&E degrees. It then describes the institutional sectors in which members of the S&E labor force are employed and provides industry breakdowns within the private sector, which is the largest employer of individuals in S&E occupations. The section also briefly describes the metropolitan areas and size of firms in which S&E degree holders are found.
Because the workforce's capacities for R&D, invention, and innovation are a continuing focus of policy concern, this section also features data on R&D and patenting activities in the workforce. Data on work-related training, which can foster innovation through organizational and individual learning, are also presented.
Workers in S&E occupations have undergone more
formal education than the general workforce (figure
Technical issues of occupational classification may inflate the estimated size of the nonbaccalaureate S&E workforce. Even so, these data indicate that many individuals enter the S&E workforce with marketable technical skills from technical or vocational school training (with or without earned associate's degrees) or college courses, and many acquire such skills through workforce experience or on-the-job training. In information technology, and to some extent in other occupations, employers frequently use certification exams, not formal degrees, to judge skills. (See "Who Performs R&D?" and the discussion in chapter 2.)
Among individuals with at least a bachelor's degree who
work in S&E occupations, a large proportion (86%) have
at least one S&E degree, and 74% have S&E degrees only
S&E degree holders work in all manner of jobs. For example, they work in S&E-related jobs such as health occupations (1.3 million workers) or in S&E managerial positions (267,000 workers), but they also hold non-S&E jobs such as college and precollege teachers in non-S&E areas (622,000 workers) or work in social services occupations (632,000 workers). In 2006, 6.2 million workers whose highest degree was in an S&E field did not work in an S&E occupation. Some 1.1 million worked in S&E-related occupations, while just over 5.0 million worked in non-S&E jobs. The largest category of non-S&E jobs was management and management-related occupations, with 1.4 million workers, followed by sales and marketing occupations, with 990,000 workers (NSF/SRS 2006).
Only about 39% of college graduates whose highest degree
is in an S&E field work in S&E occupations (figure
By field, holders of degrees in computer and mathematical
sciences and engineering most often work in the broad
occupation group in which they were trained (51% and 45%,
respectively). S&E doctorate holders more often work in the
same broad S&E occupation (64%) compared with individuals
whose highest degree is an S&E bachelor's (24%) (appendix table
Most individuals with S&E highest degrees who work
in S&E-related and non-S&E occupations do not see themselves
as working entirely outside their field of degree.
Rather, they indicate that their jobs are either closely (31%)
or somewhat (32%) related to their degree field (table
Workers with more advanced S&E education more often
do work that is at least somewhat related to their field of
degree. One to 4 years after receiving their degrees, 96%
of S&E doctorate holders say that they have jobs closely or
somewhat related to their degree field, compared with 92%
of master's degree holders and 72% of bachelor's degree
The stronger relationship between S&E jobs and S&E degrees at higher degree levels holds at all career stages, as evidenced by comparisons among groups of bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree holders at comparable numbers of years since degree award. However, for each group, the relationship between job and field of degree becomes weaker over time. There are many reasons for this decline: individuals may change their career interests, gain skills in different areas, take on general management responsibilities, forget some of their original college training, or even find that some of their original college training has become obsolete. Against this background, the career-cycle decline in the relevance of an S&E degree appears modest.
Education for most scientists and engineers does not end
when they receive their college degree. About two-thirds
of SESTAT survey respondents (persons who received a
bachelor's degree or higher in S&E, or S&E-related fields,
plus persons holding a non-S&E bachelor's or higher degree
who were employed in an S&E or S&E-related occupation)
participated in work-related training in 2006. Those in S&E-related occupations (health-related occupations, S&E
managers, S&E precollege teachers, and S&E technicians
and technologists) had the highest participation rate (79%)
Most who took training did so to improve skills or knowledge
in their current occupational field (56%) (appendix table
Women participated in work-related training at a higher
rate than men: 72% compared with 64% of men (appendix table
Although individuals with S&E degrees use their knowledge
in many ways, there is a special interest in work in
research and development. R&D creates new knowledge
and new types of goods and services that fuel economic
growth. (See sidebar,"Patenting Activity of Scientists and
Individuals with doctorates constitute only 6% of all individuals with S&E degrees but represent 12% of individuals who report R&D as a major work activity. However, the majority of S&E degree holders who report R&D as a major work activity have only bachelor's degrees (53%). An additional 31% have master's degrees and 4% have professional degrees, mostly in medicine.
Individuals who are in non-S&E occupations do much
Individuals with S&E degrees are employed in all sectors of the U.S. economy. For-profit firms are their largest employer, but substantial numbers work in academia, nonprofit organizations, and government, or are self-employed.
For-profit firms employ the greatest number of individuals
with S&E degrees (figure
The OES survey provides more detailed estimates for
sectors of employment, although it excludes the self-employed
and those employed in recent startups (figure
More than 1.7 million workers whose highest degree is in S&E were self-employed in 2006, 17% of the total (NSF/SRS 2006). This SESTAT estimate of S&E self-employment is much higher than others that have been published elsewhere because it uses a different definition. Most reports of federal data on self-employment include only individuals whose businesses are unincorporated. While only a minority (33%) of all self-employed workers in the United States work in incorporated businesses (Census Bureau 2007), the reverse is true for those whose highest degree is in S&E. As shown in figure
The proportion of self-employed workers generally decreases
by level of degree and increases with age (see
The rates of self-employment are similar across broad
S&E fields, at the bachelor's degree level ranging from
14.8% in computer and mathematical sciences to 20.4% in
the physical sciences (see figure
Federal S&E Employment
The United States federal government is a major employer of scientists and engineers, largely limited to those with U.S. citizenship. According to data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the federal government employed approximately 210,000 persons in S&E occupations in 2005. Many of these workers were in occupations that, nationwide, include relatively large concentrations of foreign-born persons, some of whom are non-citizens, rendering them ineligible for many federal jobs. Among federal employees, 59% were in science occupations and 41% were in engineering occupations. The Department of Defense was the largest employer, with nearly 45% of the federal S&E workforce (NSF/SRS 2008a).
With regard to gender, the federal S&E workforce (defined by occupation) generally reflects the total S&E workforce. Women make up 26% of all U.S. employees in S&E occupations; for federal employees, the comparable proportion is 25%. The number of women in federal S&E positions shows a consistent decrease as age increases beyond the ages of 40–49; this is also true of the whole S&E workforce.
The S&E workforce at large is younger than the federal
S&E workforce. Twenty-eight percent of the general S&E
workforce is under 35 years of age, with only 15% of those
in federal S&E occupations in that age group (appendix table
High-technology employers are not the only companies
who hire individuals in S&E occupations. As shown in table
Industries with higher proportions of individuals in S&E occupations tend to pay higher average salaries to both their S&E and non-S&E workers. The average salary of workers in non-S&E occupations employed in industries where more than 40% of workers are in S&E occupations is nearly double the average salary of workers in non-S&E occupations in industries with below-average proportions of workers in S&E occupations ($71,550 versus $36,146).
The availability of highly skilled workers can be relevant to an area's economic competitiveness. Two measures of availability with regard to S&E occupations are (1) the number of workers in S&E occupations and (2) the proportion of the entire metropolitan workforce that S&E occupations represent. These estimates should be used with care in comparing areas because the geographic scope of a metropolitan area varies significantly from city to city.
The Census Bureau divides some larger metropolitan areas
into metropolitan divisions, and these divisions are used
in comparisons with smaller metropolitan areas. Accordingly,
The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara and Boulder metropolitan areas had 14.3% and 14.2% of their workforces employed in S&E occupations, respectively. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara had 18.2% of their workers in STEM occupations. No metropolitan areas had higher estimates for S&E or STEM occupations. Although the metropolitan areas with the highest estimated proportion of S&E employment are mainly smaller and perhaps less economically diverse, Washington, DC, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, and San Jose also appear on the list of metropolitan areas with the greatest intensity of S&E occupational employment.
The largest numbers of workers in S&E occupations are in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, New York-White Plains-Wayne, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, and Chicago-Naperville-Joliet metropolitan divisions. These divisions have very large and diverse workforces even after being broken off from their larger metropolitan areas. With the exception of Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, each of these areas has about the same proportion of workers in S&E occupations as the national workforce.
Looking just at the larger metropolitan areas, without
breaking them into divisions, New York-Northern New
Jersey-Long Island has the largest number (350,670) of individuals
employed in S&E occupations but the same proportion
(4.2%) as the workforce nationwide (see table
For individuals whose highest degree is in S&E and who
are employed in business/industry, the distribution of employer
size is shown in figure