U.S. S&E Workforce: Relationship between Education and Occupation

Educational Background of Workers in S&E Occupations

Workers in S&E occupations have undertaken more education than the general workforce. The majority (76%) of workers in S&E occupations hold a bachelor’s or higher degree compared to 36% of workers in all other occupations (Figure 3-5). In addition, most (82%) college graduates working in S&E occupations have an S&E degree at the bachelor’s level or higher (Table 3-2). This suggests that S&E training is the usual pathway into S&E occupations. However, the prevalence of having an S&E degree or a degree in the same broad field as one’s S&E occupation varies across the broad occupation groups. For example, among computer and mathematical scientists, less than one-half (45%) have at least a bachelor’s degree in the same broad field and about one-fifth (20%) do not have a degree in any S&E or S&E-related field of study. In contrast, between 71% and 82% of life scientists, physical scientists, social scientists, and engineers have at least one degree at the bachelor’s or higher level in their respective broad field of study.

Educational attainment, by type of occupation: 2017

GED = General Equivalency Diploma.

Source(s):

Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 2017, Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS).

Science and Engineering Indicators


Educational background of college graduates employed in S&E occupations, by broad S&E occupational category: 2017

(Percent)
Note(s):

At least one S&E degree in field is the proportion of workers in a particular S&E occupational category with at least one bachelor's or higher-level degree in the same broad field. Highest degree in field is the proportion of workers in a particular S&E occupational category with highest degree in the same broad field. For example, among computer and mathematical scientists, these data refer to the proportion with at least one bachelor's or higher-level degree in the broad field of computer and mathematical sciences and the proportion with highest degree in the broad field of computer and mathematical sciences, respectively. 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

Distribution of S&E Degree Holders by Occupation

Although working in an S&E occupation often requires an S&E degree, many S&E highest degree holders pursue careers in other areas. About a third of S&E highest degree holders (35%) work in S&E occupations, while the rest work in S&E-related (14%) or non-S&E occupations (51%). In contrast, at least half of S&E-related or non-S&E highest degree holders each are employed in S&E-related and non-S&E occupations, respectively (Figure 3-6).

Distribution of scientists and engineers within occupation types, by broad field of highest degree: 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.

Source(s):

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

Science and Engineering Indicators

Most S&E highest degree holders not working in S&E occupations (69%) reported that their occupations were closely or somewhat related to their highest degrees (Table 3-3). In addition to S&E occupations, occupation groups in which relatively large numbers of S&E highest degree holders are employed include management-related occupations (1.5 million workers), non-S&E managers (1.2 million workers), and sales and marketing (1.0 million workers) (Table S3-2). Among S&E highest degree holders in non-S&E management and management-related occupations, 71% indicate that their jobs are related to their S&E degree.

Relationship of highest degree to job among S&E highest degree holders not in S&E occupations, by degree level: 2017

(Percent)
Note(s):

All degree levels includes professional degrees not broken out separately. 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, and the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), 2017.

Science and Engineering Indicators

The proportion of S&E highest degree holders who go on to work in S&E occupations varies substantially by S&E degree fields and level of degree. Those with a highest degree in computer and mathematical sciences and engineering tend to work in occupations that are more related to their fields of study. Individuals with social sciences degrees, in contrast, work primarily in non-S&E occupations (80%) (Figure 3-7). Additionally, S&E doctorates tend to work in S&E occupations, whereas the link between S&E field of study and S&E occupation is less salient at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels (Figure 3-8). For information on certifications and licenses, see sidebar Certifications and Licenses.

Occupational distribution of S&E highest degree holders, by field of highest degree: 2017

Note(s):

Detail may not add to total because of rounding. For each broad S&E highest degree field, S&E occupation (in field of highest degree) includes individuals who report being employed in an occupation in the same broad category. For example, for highest degree holders in computer and mathematical sciences, S&E occupation (in field of highest degree) includes those who report the broad field of computer and mathematical sciences as their occupation, and S&E occupation (not in field of highest degree) includes those who report an S&E occupation other than computer and mathematical sciences occupations.

Source(s):

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

Science and Engineering Indicators

S&E degree holders working in S&E occupations, by level and field of S&E highest degree: 2017

Note(s):

Individuals may have degrees in more than one S&E degree field.

Source(s):

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

Science and Engineering Indicators

Certifications and Licenses