Data on the nation's science and engineering (S&E) workforce, from
the National Science Board's "Science and Engineering Indicators:
2002," are highlighted in this FYI and the previous
one, FYI #126.
Below are selected portions of Chapter Three of the "Indicators."
While looking at recent trends (through 1999) in degree production,
age of the labor force, and growth of S&E careers, the report does
not attempt to estimate the size of the S&E workforce over the next
10-20 years, nor how it will compare with expected job opportunities
in S&E fields.
AGING OF WORKFORCE: "The size of the S&E workforce,
its productivity, and opportunities for new S&E workers are all
greatly affected by the age distribution and retirement patterns of
the S&E workforce. For many decades, rapid increases in new entries
led to a relatively young S&E workforce with only a small percentage
near traditional retirement ages. This general picture is rapidly changing
as the individuals who earned S&E degrees in the late 1960s and
early 1970s move into what is likely to be the latter part of their
careers." With the exception of relatively recent S&E fields
such as computer sciences, in 1999 "the greatest population density
of individuals with S&E degrees occurs between ages 40 and 49."
However, "for all degree levels and fields, only a small portion
of the S&E-degreed labor force was near traditional retirement ages:
11.8 percent overall were 55 or older."
According to the Indicators, "This circumstance suggests several
likely effects on the future S&E labor force that are important
and often overlooked:
"Barring large reductions in degree production or similarly
large increases in retirement rates, the number of trained scientists
and engineers in the labor force will continue to increase for some
time. The number of individuals currently receiving S&E degrees
greatly exceeds the number of S&E-degreed workers near traditional
"Barring large increases in degree production, the average
age of S&E-degreed workers will rise."
"Barring large reductions in retirement rates, the
total number of retirements among S&E-degreed workers will dramatically
increase over the next 20 years. This may be particularly true for
Ph.D.-holders because of the steepness of their age profile."
However, the "Indicators" point out that "the retirement
behavior of individuals can differ in complex ways. Some individuals
retire' from a job while continuing to work full or part time...whereas
others leave the workforce without a retired' designation from
a formal pension plan." In 1999, half of those with bachelor's
and master's degrees in S&E fields "left the workforce entirely
by age 65, but Ph.D.-holders did not do so until age 68."
EMPLOYMENT TRENDS: "During the 2000-2010 period, employment
in S&E occupations is expected to increase about three times faster
than the rate for all occupations.... Employment opportunities for S&E
jobs are expected to increase by about 47 percent (about 2.2 million
jobs.)" In physical science occupations, employment "is expected
to increase by about 18 percent (from 239,000 to 283,000 jobs),"
with almost half of those jobs in environmental sciences.
"The U.S. S&E labor market continues to grow both in absolute
numbers and in its percentage of the total labor market.... In general,
labor market conditions for those with S&E degrees, although always
better than for college graduates as a whole, have improved during the
1990s. Labor market conditions for new Ph.D. recipients have also been
good by most conventional measures - S&E doctorate-holders are employed
and doing work relevant to their training - but the gains have come
in the nonacademic sectors (i.e., in most fields, a smaller percentage
of recent Ph.D. recipients are obtaining tenure-track positions).
"The age structure of the U.S. S&E labor force is likely to
produce several major changes in the S&E labor market over the next
decade. The number of individuals with S&E degrees reaching traditional
retirement ages is expected to triple. Despite this, if S&E degree
production remains at current  rates, the number of S&E-trained
individuals in the labor market will likely continue to grow for some
time, albeit at a lower rate, as the number of new graduates continues
to exceed the number of retirees.
"The globalization of the S&E labor force is expanding in
two ways: location of S&E employment is becoming more internationally
diverse, and S&E workers are becoming more internationally mobile."
These new developments "pose challenges," as noted in the
Indicators' Overview. "As new centers of technological excellence
arise, firms and universities in the United States may find it increasingly
difficult to recruit scientists and engineers from abroad, currently
an important source of supply.... These potential developments bear
watching, because they would affect U.S. policies that support S&T
and the education and training of the domestic S&E workforce."
Much more information on the nation's science and engineering enterprise
can be found in the two-volume "Science and Engineering Indicators
- 2002." Both volumes are available on the web at http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind02/pdfstart.htm.
A CD-ROM of the Indicators can be ordered, free of charge, from the
same site. For a hardcopy version, contact email@example.com or call