Chapter Overview

Policymakers and scholars emphasize innovation based on S&E R&D as a vehicle for a nation’s economic growth and global competitiveness. In the increasingly interconnected world of the 21st century, workers with S&E expertise are integral to a nation’s innovative capacity because of their high skill level, their creative ideas, and their ability not only to advance basic scientific knowledge but also to transform advances in fundamental knowledge into tangible and useful products and services. As a result, these workers make important contributions to improving the nation’s living standards.

Chapter Organization

The U.S. S&E workforce includes both individuals employed in S&E occupations and individuals educated in S&E fields but employed in a variety of non-S&E occupations. Many more individuals have S&E degrees than work in S&E occupations. Indicative of a knowledge-based economy, many individuals in non-S&E occupations reported that their work nevertheless requires a bachelor’s degree level of S&E expertise. Therefore, the first section in this chapter, U.S. S&E Workforce: Definition, Size, and Growth, discusses the S&E workforce based on three measures: workers in S&E occupations, holders of S&E degrees, and use of S&E technical expertise on the job. This section also discusses the interplay between educational background and choice of occupation.

The second section in this chapter, S&E Workers in the Economy, examines the distribution of S&E workers across employment sectors. It describes the distribution of S&E workers across sectors (e.g., business, education, government) as well as within particular sectors (e.g., local, state, and federal government). This section also presents data on geographic distribution of S&E employment in the United States. Data on R&D activity and work-related training by S&E workers are also discussed.

The third section, S&E Labor Market Conditions, looks at labor market outcomes for S&E workers. Data in this section focus on earnings and unemployment, with a focus on recent S&E graduates.

The next three sections cover workforce demographics. Age and Retirement of the S&E Workforce presents data on the age distribution and retirement patterns of S&E workers. Women and Minorities in the S&E Workforce focuses on S&E participation by women and by racial and ethnic minorities; this section also presents data on salary differences by sex and by race and ethnicity. Immigration and the S&E Workforce presents data on S&E participation by foreign-born individuals in the United States.

The final section in this chapter is Global S&E Labor Force. Although there are indications that the global S&E labor force has grown, international data on the characteristics of this broader labor force are particularly limited and are not always comparable with data for the United States. In this final section, data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are used to present indicators of worldwide R&D employment.

This chapter uses a variety of data sources, including, but not limited to, the National Science Foundation/National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics’ (NSF/NCSES’s) National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG), Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), and Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering; the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS); the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey administered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); and the Current Population Survey (CPS) sponsored jointly by the Census Bureau and BLS. Different sources cover different segments of the population and different levels of detail on the various topics. (See sidebar NSF/NCSES’s Data on Scientists and Engineers and Table 3-1.) Although data collection methods and definitions can differ across surveys in ways that affect estimates, presenting data from different sources facilitates a more accurate and comprehensive picture of the very specialized S&E workforce. Long-term trends, international trends, and comparisons of S&E and non-S&E workers are discussed whenever data are available.

Major sources of data on the U.S. labor force