U.S. S&E Workforce

Workers employing S&E and technological expertise in their occupations experience better labor market outcomes than those in many other types of jobs. Women and certain racial and ethnic groups—blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives—are underrepresented in S&E. However, their total numbers in S&E occupations have increased. Foreign-born individuals account for a considerable share of S&E employment, particularly among workers with graduate degrees. Both the number and proportion of foreign-born S&E workers have risen over time.

Workforce Growth and Employment Sector

S&E employment in the United States—made up of occupations like software developers, computer system analysts, chemists, mathematicians, economists, psychologists, and engineers—has grown more rapidly than the workforce overall and now represents 5% (about 7 million) of all U.S. jobs. In 2017, the median annual salary in S&E occupations (across workers at all education levels) was $85,390, which is more than double the median for all U.S. workers ($37,690). Individuals in S&E occupations work for a variety of employers, including businesses (72%), educational institutions (16%), and government (12%). Many others with S&E training are employed in and apply their S&E knowledge and skills in occupations not formally classified as S&E jobs.

Women and Underrepresented Minorities

Women account for about half (52%) of the college-educated workforce (Figure 6), and between 2003 and 2017, the number of women in S&E jobs rose from nearly 1.3 million to nearly 2.0 million. Despite this increase, women in 2017 accounted for 29% of S&E employment, compared with 26% in 2003. The number of women grew in all broad S&E occupations (Figure 7). In addition, their presence varies across occupational categories. In 2017, women accounted for nearly half or more of the workforce in the life sciences and in psychology and social sciences. In comparison, women accounted for 27% of computer and mathematical scientists, 16% of engineers, and 29% of physical scientists.

Women, underrepresented minorities, blacks, and Hispanics in S&E and all occupations: 2017

Note(s):

Underrepresented minorities includes individuals who are black, Hispanic, or American Indian or Alaska Native. The S&E and all occupations data are for those with a bachelor's degree and above. The U.S. residential population data are for those at all education levels.

Source(s):

NCSES, 2017 NSCG; Census Bureau, 2017 ACS public use microdata.

Indicators 2020: Labor Force

Women in S&E occupations, by broad occupational category: 2003 and 2017

Source(s):

NCSES, 2003 SESTAT and 2017 NSCG.

Indicators 2020: Labor Force

Similarly, in 2017, there were 901,000 S&E workers from URM groups, up from 432,000 in 2003. The proportion of individuals from URM groups in S&E jobs, although up from 9% in 2003 to 13% in 2017, remains below their share of the college-educated workforce (17%) (Figure 6). URMs also vary in their presence across S&E, accounting for 10% to 22% of the workforce in each broad S&E occupational category (Figure 8). Representation varies further across minority groups and within occupations. The share of Hispanics among psychologists (15%), political scientists (33%), postsecondary teachers in computer science (13%), and industrial engineers (17%) is large relative to the Hispanic share of S&E occupations overall (7%). The share of black individuals among computer systems analysts (13%), computer support specialists (14%), and network and computer systems administrators (14%) is large relative to the share of black individuals in S&E occupations overall (6%).

Underrepresented minorities in S&E occupations, by broad occupational category: 2003 and 2017

Note(s):

Underrepresented minorities includes individuals who are black, Hispanic, or American Indian or Alaska Native.

Source(s):

NCSES, 2003 SESTAT and 2017 NSCG.

Indicators 2020: Labor Force

Foreign-Born Scientists and Engineers

Foreign-born workers—ranging from long-term U.S. residents with strong roots in the United States to more recent immigrants—account for 30% of workers in S&E occupations. The number and proportion of the S&E workforce that are foreign born has grown. In many of the broad S&E occupational categories, the higher the degree level, the greater the proportion of the workforce who are foreign born. More than one-half of doctorate holders in engineering and in computer science and mathematics occupations are foreign born (Figure 9). In comparison, about 18% of the overall population and 17% of the college graduate population in the United States are foreign born.

Foreign-born individuals in S&E occupations in the United States, by level of degree and occupation: 2017

Source(s):

NCSES, 2017 NCSG.

Indicators 2020: Labor Force

Skilled Technical Workforce

According to the most recent estimates, the U.S. workforce includes about 17 million skilled technical workers, that is, those who are employed in occupations that require S&E expertise and technical knowledge and whose educational attainment is some high school or a high school diploma, some college or an associate’s degree, or equivalent training. These workers are concentrated in four broad occupational categories: construction and extraction (21%), health care (20%), installation, maintenance, and repair (20%), and production (16%) (Figure 10).

Skilled technical workers, by occupation: 2017

Note(s):

Employment counts are of employed individuals with an educational attainment of less than a bachelor's degree.

Source(s):

Census Bureau, 2017 ACS public use microdata.

Indicators 2020: Labor Force

Skilled technical occupations provide better career opportunities than other occupations. In 2017, skilled technical workers had a higher median salary ($45,000) and a lower unemployment rate (3%) than did workers with less than a bachelor’s degree in all other occupations ($29,000 and 5%). The skilled technical workforce is made up primarily of men—only 28% are women. Although the racial and ethnic distribution is largely similar to the overall workforce, Asians account for a smaller share of this workforce (4% versus 6% of the overall workforce), as do foreign-born individuals (16% versus 18%).