S&E Workers in the Economy

Employment Sectors

Scientists and engineers perform their work and make their contributions across all sectors of the economy, including the business, education, and government sectors. Comprised mostly of for-profit businesses, but also including nonprofit organizations and the self-employed, the business sector (or “industry”) employed the most scientists and engineers in 2017 (71%) (Table 3-4). The education sector, including private and public institutions, employed another 18%—the bulk in 2-year and precollege institutions. The government sector—federal, state, and local—employed another 11%. This distribution pattern has been quite stable since the early 1990s. As the number of workers in S&E occupations doubled from 1993 to 2017, the proportion in the business sector—including that in for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations—increased slightly (Table S3-4).

Employment sector of scientists and engineers, by broad occupational category and degree field: 2017

(Percent)
Note(s)

Scientists and engineers include those with one or more S&E or S&E-related degrees at the bachelor's level or higher or those who have only a non-S&E degree at the bachelor's level or higher and are employed in an S&E or S&E-related occupation. Detail may not add to total because of rounding.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG), 2017.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Some differences exist in the concentration of particular groups of S&E workers across employment sectors (Table 3-4; Figure 3-9; Table S3-5, Table S3-6). The business sector, including for-profit and nonprofit businesses and the self-employed, and the education sector including precollege, 2-year and 4-year institutions, are both prominent employers of S&E doctorate holders, while the education sector is a less prominent employer for other degree levels and overall (Figure 3-9). The for-profit business sector is a larger employer of engineers and computer and mathematical scientists relative to the remaining occupations, while 4-year academic institutions employ a larger share of life, physical, and social scientists relative to engineers and computer and mathematical scientists (Figure 3-10).

S&E highest degree holders, by degree level and employment sector: 2017

Note(s)

All degree levels includes professional degrees not shown separately.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG), 2017.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Broad S&E occupational categories, by employment sector: 2017

Note(s)

Percentages may not add to 100% because of rounding.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG), 2017.

Science and Engineering Indicators

In 2017, over 4.7 million scientists and engineers (17%) reported being self-employed in either an unincorporated or incorporated business, professional practice, or farm (Table S3-5). Those working in S&E-related or non-S&E occupations reported higher levels of self-employment (16% and 22%, respectively) than those working in S&E occupations (11%).

S&E employment in the United States also varies by geography: a small number of geographic areas accounts for a considerable proportion of S&E jobs. For example, the 20 metropolitan areas with the largest S&E employment account for 42% of nationwide employment in S&E jobs, compared to about 31% of employment in all occupations (Table 3-5). The New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ and the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV metropolitan divisions have the largest numbers of workers in S&E occupations in 2017. The availability of a skilled workforce is an important indicator of a region’s population, productivity, and technological growth (Carlino, Chatterjee, and Hunt 2001; Glaeser and Saiz 2003).

Metropolitan areas with largest number of workers in S&E occupations: May 2017

(Number)
Note(s)

The data exclude metropolitan statistical areas where S&E proportions were suppressed. Larger metropolitan areas are broken into component metropolitan divisions. Ranking is based on the estimated number of workers in S&E occupations. Differences between any two areas may not be statistically significant.

Source(s)

Bureau of Labor Statistics, special tabulations (2018) of the May 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics Survey.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Industry Employment

Industries vary in their proportions of S&E workers. In 2017, four industry groups with the largest numbers of S&E workers—professional, scientific, and technical services; manufacturing; educational services; and government—accounted for about 65% of industry S&E employment, compared with 31% of total employment (Table 3-6).

Employment in S&E occupations, by major industry: May 2017

(Number)

OES = Occupational Employment Statistics.

Note(s)

Industries are defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The OES Survey does not cover employment among self-employed workers and employment in private households (NAICS 814). In the employment total for agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting, only the following industries are included: logging (NAICS 1133), support activities for crop production (NAICS 1151), and support activities for animal production (NAICS 1152). As a result, the data do not represent total U.S. employment. Differences between any two industry groups may not be statistically significant. Detail may not add to total because of rounding.

Source(s)

Bureau of Labor Statistics, special tabulations (2018) of the May 2017 OES Survey.

Science and Engineering Indicators

S&E employment intensity, defined by an industry’s S&E employment as a proportion of its total employment, also varied by industry. Industries with low S&E employment intensity (below the national average) include large employers such as health care and social assistance, retail trade, and accommodation and food services. Those with high S&E employment intensity include information and utilities, among others (Table 3-6).

Academic Employment of Science, Engineering, and Health Doctorate Holders

As noted earlier, the education sector is a large employer of scientists and engineers with doctoral degrees; the academic doctoral workforce plays an important role in training the next generation of scientists and engineers and advancing the nation’s basic research enterprise. In 2017, according to the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), there were about 390,000 science, engineering, and health (SEH) doctorate holders employed in the nation’s universities and colleges. At the doctoral level, health sciences are also included in S&E fields of study as these data at the doctoral level correspond to the doctor’s research/scholarship degree level, which are research-focused degrees. The majority of the academic doctoral workforce (about 327,000) received their doctorate in the United States, while the remainder received their doctorate abroad. The majority of SEH doctorate holders are employed as full-time faculty (including tenured and tenure-track positions); however, as a proportion of all academically employed SEH doctorate holders, those employed as full-time faculty have been in steady decline for four decades, decreasing from about 90% in the early 1970s to less than 70% in 2017 (Figure 3-11; Table S3-7). In addition, SEH doctorate holders with tenured positions accounted for approximately 54% of all academically employed SEH doctorate holders in 1997 and declined to 45% in 2017. The proportion of those in tenure-track positions also declined in share, while the proportion in positions outside of the tenure system increased from 1997 to 2017.

SEH doctorate holders employed in academia, by type of position: 1973–2017

Note(s)

Academic employment is limited to U.S. doctorate holders employed at 2- or 4-year colleges or universities, medical schools, and university research institutes. Full-time faculty includes full, associate, and assistant professors. Other full-time positions include positions such as research associates, adjunct appointments, instructors, lecturers, and administrative positions. Part-time positions exclude those held by students or retired people. Percentages may not add to 100% because of rounding.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR).

Science and Engineering Indicators

The overall distribution of SEH doctorate holders among for-profit businesses and 4-year educational institutions has also shifted. In 1993, nearly half of SEH doctorate holders (45%) were employed by universities and 4-year colleges, while 31% were employed by private, for-profit businesses (NCSES SDR 1993: Table 20). By 2017, these percentages were closer, with 39% in 4-year educational institutions and 35% in for-profit businesses (NCSES SDR 2017: Table 42).

The SEH doctoral academic workforce is engaged primarily in research and teaching. In 2017, nearly identical shares of U.S.-trained doctorate holders reported that research or teaching was their primary work activity—approximately 40% each (see Table S3-8). Historically, this was not the case: the 1973 share of these doctorate holders engaged in teaching as a primary work activity (62%) far exceeded the share engaged primarily in research (26%). Federal research support holds a prominent role for academically employed SEH doctorate holders. In 2017, about 40% of them had received federal research support in the previous year (Table S3-9).

Scientists and Engineers Performing Research and Development

R&D creates new types of goods and services that contribute to economic productivity and growth and enhance living standards. R&D workers are defined here as those who reported basic research, applied research, design, or development as a primary or secondary work activity in their principal job (i.e., activities that rank first or second in total work hours from a list of 14 activities). This analysis includes R&D workers in all sectors (including business, education, and government). The majority of people in S&E occupations (57%) are R&D workers, and so are considerable proportions of those in S&E-related (22%) and non-S&E occupations (18%) (Figure 3-12), suggesting that R&D-based work activities are prevalent in various types of jobs. In general, S&E doctorate holders indicated higher rates of R&D activity than those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree as their highest degree (Table 3-7).

Employed scientists and engineers with R&D activity, by broad field of highest degree and broad occupational category: 2017

Note(s)

Scientists and engineers include those with one or more S&E or S&E-related degrees at the bachelor's level or higher or those who have only a non-S&E degree at the bachelor's level or higher and are employed in an S&E or S&E-related occupation. R&D activity refers to the share of workers reporting basic research, applied research, design, or development as a primary or secondary work activity in their principal job—activities ranking first or second in work hours.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG), 2017.

Science and Engineering Indicators

R&D activity rate of scientists and engineers employed in S&E occupations, by broad occupational category and highest degree level: 2017

(Percent)
Note(s)

R&D activity rate is the proportion of workers who report that basic research, applied research, design, or development is a primary or secondary work activity in their principal job—activities ranking first or second in work hours. Scientists and engineers include those with one or more S&E or S&E-related degrees at the bachelor's level or higher or those who have only a non-S&E degree at the bachelor's level or higher and are employed in an S&E or S&E-related field in 2015. All degree levels includes professional degrees not broken out separately.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG), 2017.

Science and Engineering Indicators