Cross-National Comparisons of R&D Performance

Data on R&D expenditures and intensity by country and region provide a broad picture of the current global distribution of R&D capabilities and activities, as well as the changes under way.

Cross-national comparisons of R&D expenditures and funding require currency conversions. The analysis in this section follows the international convention of converting all foreign currencies into U.S. dollars via purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates. For a discussion of this methodology, see the Technical Appendix section titled Comparing International R&D Expenditures.

Country and Regional Patterns in Total National R&D

The global total of R&D expenditures continues to rise at a substantial pace. NCSES’s latest estimate puts the worldwide total at $2.153 trillion (current PPP dollars) in 2017 (Figure 4-5). In 2010, it was estimated at $1.416 trillion, and in 2000, the estimate was $722 billion. The annual increase in total global R&D averaged 7.0% from 2000 to 2010 and averaged 6.2% over the 2010–17 period. This nearly threefold expansion over these 17 years reflects, in part, the escalating knowledge intensity of economic competition among the world’s nations—as well their individual desires to harness advances in science and technology to improve their own economies and indicators of their societal well-being.

Global R&D expenditures, by region: 2017

PPP = purchasing power parity.

Note(s)

Foreign currencies are converted to dollars through PPPs. Some country data are estimated. Countries are grouped according to the regions described by The World Factbook.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, estimates as of October 2019. Based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Main Science and Technology Indicators (2019/1), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics Data Centre.

Science and Engineering Indicators

R&D performance by the world’s countries and economies continues to be concentrated in three geographic regions: North America, Europe, and the combination of South Asia (including India, Pakistan, and other countries) and East-Southeast Asia (including China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and other countries) (Figure 4-5). In 2017, the combined regions of South Asia and East-Southeast Asia accounted for the largest share of the world total (42%, or $897 billion). North America (United States, Canada, and Mexico) had the second largest share (27%, or $587 billion), followed by Europe (21%, or $460 billion), including the European Union (EU) (see the Glossary section for a list of the 28 EU member countries). The remaining 10% of global R&D performance comes (in decreasing order) from the regions of the Middle East, South America, Central Asia, Australia and Oceania, Africa, and Central America and the Caribbean.

The geographic concentration of R&D is even more evident when the profiles of specific countries or economies are considered (Table 4-5 and Figure 4-6). The United States continues as the lead performer ($549 billion in 2017), accounting for 25% of the global R&D total. China remains the second largest performer ($496 billion in 2017), accounting for 23% of the global total. Over the last few years, China has moved even closer to the United States (Figure 4-7). Japan is third at 8% ($171 billion), and Germany is fourth at 6% ($132 billion). South Korea, also now rapidly rising ($91 billion in 2017), is fifth, accounting for 4% of the global total. France ($65 billion), India ($50 billion), and the United Kingdom ($49 billion) are the next rung down—each accounting for 2%–3%. Russia, Brazil, Taiwan, and Italy make up a fourth tier, with annual R&D expenditures ranging from $34 billion to $42 billion, or around 2% each of the global total. Canada, Spain, Turkey, and Australia each have annual R&D expenditures in the $21 billion–$27 billion range, or about 1% each of the global total.

International comparisons of gross domestic expenditures on R&D and R&D share of gross domestic product, by region, country, or economy: 2017 or most recent year

(PPP millions of dollars and GERD-to-GDP ratio)

G20 = Group of Twenty; GDP = gross domestic product; GERD = gross domestic expenditure on R&D; OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; PPP = purchasing power parity.

a Data for U.S. GERD differ slightly from the U.S. total R&D data tabulated earlier in this report. For better consistency with international standards, U.S. GERD includes federal capital funding for federal intramural and nonprofit R&D, in addition to what is reported as U.S. total R&D.

b Data for the European Union (EU) include the 28 EU member countries.

Note(s)

Year of data is listed in parentheses. Foreign currencies are converted to dollars through PPPs. Countries in this table have an annual GERD of $500 million or more. Countries are grouped according to the regions described by The World Factbook. Data for Israel are civilian R&D only. See sources below for GERD statistics on additional countries.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Patterns of R&D Resources (annual series); Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Main Science and Technology Indicators (2019/1); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics Data Centre.

Science and Engineering Indicators

GERD and R&D intensity for world's top 16 R&D performing countries and economies: 2017 or most recent data year

GDP = gross domestic product; GERD = gross domestic expenditure on R&D; PPP = purchasing power parity; R&D intensity = GERD-to-GDP ratio (percent).

Note(s)

Top 16 R&D performing countries or economies (based on annual GERD). Data for most countries are from 2017; data for India, Brazil, and Australia are 1 year or 2 years earlier.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Patterns of R&D Resources (annual series); Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Main Science and Technology Indicators (2019/1); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics Data Centre.

Science and Engineering Indicators

These top 16 countries and economies together accounted for 86% of the global R&D total. As Table 4-5 indicates, many other countries also conduct R&D, but each has an annual expenditures total well below that of each of this top group of 16 countries and economies.

Larger increases in the levels of R&D performance in South Asia and East-Southeast Asia, compared with the other major R&D-performing areas, have resulted in major shifts. R&D performed in the North American region accounted for 40% of the global total in 2000 but had slipped to 27% by 2017. Europe accounted for 27% in 2000 but only 21% in 2017. The regions of East-Southeast Asia and South Asia together comprised 25% of the global total in 2000 but rose to 42% in 2017. Present regional growth trends in R&D performance suggest that the dramatic rise of these areas of Asia in the global R&D arena is unlikely to end soon.

Since 2000, China alone accounted for 32% ($463 billion) of the global increase in R&D, while the United States accounted for 20% ($280 billion), and the EU accounted for 17% ($247 billion). The increases of several other major Asian R&D performers were also noticeable: both Japan and South Korea accounted for 5% of the increase ($72 billion each).

China continues to exhibit the world’s most dramatic R&D growth trend (Figure 4-7, Table 4-6, and Table S4-1). The pace of China’s increase in R&D performance has been exceptionally high for numerous years, averaging 20.5% annually over 2000–10 and 12.8% for 2010–17. The expansion in South Korea’s R&D has also been quite high, averaging 10.9% annually over 2000–10 and 8.3% for 2010–17. Japan’s corresponding increases of R&D have been considerably slower, at 3.6% and 2.8%, respectively.

Gross domestic expenditures on R&D, by the United States, the EU, and selected other countries: 1990–2017

EU = European Union; PPP = purchasing power parity.

Note(s)

Data are for the top eight R&D-performing countries and the EU. Data are not available for all countries for all years. Data for U.S. gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) differ slightly from the U.S. total R&D data tabulated earlier in this report. For better consistency with international standards, U.S. GERD includes federal capital funding for federal intramural and nonprofit R&D, in addition to what is reported as U.S. total R&D. Data for Japan in 1996 onward may not be consistent with earlier data because of changes in methodology. Data for the EU include the 28 EU member countries. Data for Germany for 1981–90 are for West Germany.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Patterns of R&D Resources (annual series); Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Main Science and Technology Indicators (2019/1); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics Data Centre. See Table S4-1.


Science and Engineering Indicators

Comparative growth rates, gross domestic expenditures on R&D and gross domestic product, top R&D-performing countries: 2000–10, 2010–17

(Billions of PPP dollars and percent)

GDP = gross domestic product; GERD = gross domestic expenditure on R&D; PPP = purchasing power parity.

a Data for U.S. GERD differ slightly from the U.S. total R&D data tabulated earlier in this report. For better consistency with international standards, U.S. GERD includes federal capital funding for federal intramural and nonprofit R&D, in addition to what is reported as U.S. total R&D.

b Most recent data for India are 2015. The listed growth rates for India for both GERD and GDP are 2010–15.

Note(s)

Table shows the top eight R&D-performing countries in 2017. The growth rates are calculated as compound average annual rates. Year of data is listed in parentheses. By way of comparison, the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics estimates that the average annual pace of growth of the global total of R&D was 7.0% for 2000–10 and 6.0% for 2010–17.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Patterns of R&D Resources (annual series); Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Main Science and Technology Indicators (2019/1); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics Data Centre.

Science and Engineering Indicators

While the United States remains atop the list of the world’s R&D-performing nations, its pace of annual expansion in R&D performance has averaged 4.3% over both 2000–10 and 2010–17, and its share of global R&D has declined from 37% in 2000 to 25% in 2017. Total R&D by EU nations has been increasing at an annual average rate of 5.3% in 2000–10 and 4.9% in 2010–17, with Germany at 4.9% and 6.1%, France at 4.3% and 3.5%, and the United Kingdom at 4.1% and 4.0%, respectively.

Country and Regional Patterns in National R&D Intensity

The R&D-to-GDP ratio, a widely reported measure of R&D intensity, provides insight into a country’s investments in R&D relative to overall economic activities. For the United States, this ratio has ranged from about 2.6% to 2.8% from 2000 to 2017 (Figure 4-8 and Table S4-1).

Gross domestic expenditures on R&D as a share of gross domestic product, by the United States, the EU, and selected other countries: 1990–2017

EU = European Union.

Note(s)

Data are for the top eight R&D-performing countries and the EU. Data are not available for all countries for all years. Data for U.S. gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) differ slightly from the U.S. total R&D data tabulated earlier in this report. For better consistency with international standards, U.S. GERD includes federal capital funding for federal intramural and nonprofit R&D, in addition to what is reported as U.S. total R&D. Data for Japan in 1996 onward may not be consistent with earlier data because of changes in methodology. Data for the EU include the 28 EU member countries. Data for Germany for 1981–90 are for West Germany.

Source(s)

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Patterns of R&D Resources (annual series); Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Main Science and Technology Indicators (2019/1); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics Data Centre. See Table S4-1.


Science and Engineering Indicators

In 2017, the United States ranked 10th in R&D intensity among the economies tracked by Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) data. South Korea and Israel are essentially tied for the top spot, with ratios of 4.6% and 4.5%, respectively (although Israel’s data exclude expenditures for defense R&D, while South Korea’s data include these values). Israel has long been at the top of the R&D-to-GDP ratio ranking (Table 4-5), but South Korea’s upward movement has been particularly rapid since the late 1990s (Figure 4-8). Furthermore, South Korea is one of the world’s largest R&D performers, with annual R&D expenditures many times that of Israel. Sweden and Switzerland are third, at 3.4%, followed by Taiwan at 3.3%. Japan is sixth, at 3.2%. Several smaller countries with comparatively high R&D-to-GDP ratios are Austria (3.2%), Denmark (3.1%), Germany (3.0%), and Finland (2.8%). The R&D intensities of the remaining top R&D performers are as follows: France at 2.2%, China at 2.2%, the United Kingdom at 1.7%, Turkey at 1.0%, and India at 0.6%.

The U.S. rank in this indicator was eighth in 2009, compared to its current ranking of 10th in 2017. The United States was ranked 11th in 2013 and 2015 (NSB 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018). These shifts in the U.S. rank are not surprising, as other countries have been expanding the scope and level of their R&D activities. Even so, this erosion in the U.S. rank has appeared despite generally high U.S. R&D intensity levels (relative to historic levels) over the last 10 years.

The R&D-to-GDP ratio has been rising gradually for the EU as a whole, from about 1.7% in 2000 to nearly 2.0% in 2017 (Figure 4-8). For the largest R&D performers among the EU countries, Germany’s ratio has gradually risen over that period, from 2.4% to 3.0%, whereas those for France (from 2.1% to 2.2%) and the United Kingdom (from 1.6% to 1.7%) have moved in narrower tracks.

Among the large Asian R&D performers, Japan’s R&D-to-GDP ratio has moved mainly upward in recent years, from 2.9% in 2000 to 3.2% in 2017. The high risers—across the eight top R&D-performing countries considered here—have been China and South Korea. China’s ratio more than doubled over the period, from just over 0.9% in 2000 to about 2.1% in 2017, suggesting that ample room remains for future increases (Table S4-1). South Korea’s ratio has increased considerably in recent years, from 2.2% in 2000 to 4.6% in 2017.

Comparisons of the Composition of Country R&D Performance