Science & Engineering Indicators: S&E Workforce Demographics

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Publication date: 
20 November 2002

The nation's need for highly-trained workers to fill 21st century jobs, and its capacity to produce such a skilled workforce, are frequently discussed topics for policymakers and the science community alike. In order to consider future needs, it can be instructive to look at current information. An entire chapter of the National Science Board's "Science and Engineering Indicators: 2002" is devoted to recent data (through 1999) on the science and engineering (S&E) workforce. Below are selected highlights from the "Indicators" on the nation's S&E workforce, including details on women, minorities, foreign-born workers, and the number of Ph.D.s taking postdoctoral positions. FYI #127will provide additional highlights on the aging of the S&E workforce and expected employment trends.

S&E LABOR FORCE: Unless otherwise specified, the Indicators uses the term "scientists and engineers" to refer to people educated in, or holding occupations in, the life, physical, social, computer and mathematical sciences and engineering, including technicians, researchers, educators and managers within the S&E enterprise.

In 1999, the total number of scientists and engineers employed in the U.S. was 10,981,600, although more than half (7,440,800) were not employed in S&E occupations. "Altogether, approximately 3.5 million individuals held S&E occupations in 1999. Engineers represented 39 percent (1.37 million) of the S&E positions, and computer scientists and mathematicians represented 33 percent (1.17 million). Physical scientists accounted for less than 9 percent of those working in S&E occupations in 1999."

UNEMPLOYMENT RATES: In 1999, the unemployment rate for the entire labor force was 4.4 percent, while the unemployment rate for those with S&E occupations was 1.6 percent. The highest unemployment rate in that year for those in the S&E workforce "was for physical scientists (1.9 percent), and the lowest rate was for computer scientists and mathematicians (1.2 percent)."

EMPLOYERS: In 1999, "approximately 74 percent of scientists and engineers with bachelor's degrees and 62 percent of those with master's degrees were employed in private, for-profit companies. The academic sector was the largest sector of employment for those with doctorates (48 percent)."

S&E WORKFORCE COMPOSITION: In 1999, "women made up almost one-fourth (24 percent) of the S&E workforce but close to one-half (46 percent) of the U.S. workforce." In the same year, "Eleven percent of scientists and engineers...were Asian, although they constituted 4 percent of the U.S. population. Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians as a group constituted 24 percent of the U.S. population but only 7 percent of the total S&E workforce in 1999. Blacks and Hispanics each represented about 3 percent of scientists and engineers, and American Indians represented less than 0.5 percent. Between 1993 and 1999, the portion of Asians in the S&E workforce increased by about 2 percent, whereas the portion of blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians remained virtually unchanged."

The percentage of foreign born college graduates in the U.S. S&E labor force grew from 11.2 percent in 1980 to 19.3 percent in 2000. The report finds that "In April 1999, 27 percent of doctorate-holders in S&E in the United States were foreign born.... Almost one-fifth (19.9 percent) of those with master's degrees in S&E were foreign born. Even at the bachelor's degree level, 9.9 percent of those with S&E degrees were foreign born."

POSTDOCTORAL POSITIONS: The percentage of recent S&E Ph.D. recipients taking postdocs declined slightly in recent years, "from 32.7 percent of 1994 graduates in 1995 to 31.5 percent of 1998 graduates in 1999." However, "in the biological sciences, which account for about two-thirds of all postdocs, the postdoc rate one year after receipt of degree increased slightly from 59.6 to 61.2 percent. At the same time, physics, the other traditionally large postdoc field, experienced a decline in the incidence of postdocs one year after receipt of degree from 57.1 percent in 1995 to 47.0 percent in 1999."

The information highlighted above is only a small sampling of the data provided in Chapter Three of the Indicators. The two-volume "Science and Engineering Indicators - 2002" is available on the web at A CD-ROM of the Indicators can be ordered, free of charge, from the same site. For a hardcopy version, contact paperpubs [at] or call (301) 947-2722.