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Press Release 98-064

NSF: Most Science and Engineering Degree Holders Employed in Non-S&E Occupations

October 6, 1998

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Nearly twice as many people with degrees in science and engineering (S&E) fields were employed in non-S&E occupations as were employed in S&E jobs in 1995, according to data collected by the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Science Resources Studies (SRS).

A new NSF Data Brief shows that the S&E workforce reached nearly 3.2 million in 1995 - of which 83 percent, or 2.6 million people, had received their highest degrees in an S&E field. At the same time, however, about 4.7 million people whose highest degrees were in S&E fields were working in non-S&E occupations.

This is one of the first opportunities we have had to examine occupations as they relate to the field in which job holders were educated," said the author, R. Keith Wilkinson. The information came from the NSF's Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT), a unified database recording employment, education and other characteristics of the nation's scientists and engineers. The data are collected from three component surveys sponsored by the NSF and conducted every two years.

Engineers accounted for 42 percent (1.34 million) of the total S&E workforce. Computer and mathematical scientists made up 30 percent (950,000); followed by social scientists (317,500), life scientists (305,300) and physical scientists (274,300). More than half the S&E degree holders employed in non-S&E occupations were in fields such as management/administration, sales and marketing, and non-S&E-related teaching.

Of this group, about two thirds - 80 percent of those holding doctorates and master's degrees and 60 percent of those holding bachelor's degrees - said that their work was at least somewhat related to their degree.

Nearly three fifths (58 percent) of those who were working in S&E fields said their highest degree was a bachelor's, while 28 percent listed a master's and 13 percent reported a doctorate. Most bachelor's and masters degree holders had jobs as either engineers (49 and 40 percent, respectively) or computer and mathematical scientists (34 and 30 percent, respectively). Doctorate holders were employed primarily as social scientists (27 percent), life scientists (25 percent), and physical scientists (19 percent).

The data also showed:

  • The unemployment rate for S&E degree-holders was less than half the overall national average - 2.2 percent for those working in S&E, and 2.8 percent for S&E degreeholders in non-S&E occupations, versus 5.6 percent for the U.S. labor force as a whole in 1995.

  • The private sector is by far the largest employer of S&E workers - 72 percent for those with bachelor's degrees, 59 percent for those with master's degrees. The academic sector is the largest employer of those with doctorates (43 percent).

  • Educational institutions employed the largest proportion of life scientists (49 percent) and social scientists (44 percent).

  • Bachelor's degree-holders working full-time in S&E occupations had an average annual salary of $48,000; master's recipients made $53,000 and doctorate holders made $58,000. Engineers earned the highest salaries at each degree level, followed by computer and mathematical scientists at the bachelor's and master's level, and physical scientists at the doctoral level.


Editors: For the complete Data Brief, see:

Media Contacts
Joel Blumenthal, NSF, (703) 292-8070,

Program Contacts
R. Keith Wilkinson, NSF, (703) 292-7801,

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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