Who earns a U.S. doctorate?
Each new cohort of doctorate recipients augments the supply of prospective scientists, engineers, researchers, and scholars. Data on the demographic composition of these cohorts reveal changes in the presence of underrepresented groups.
Doctorates awarded by U.S. colleges and universities: 1958–2017
The number of research doctorate degrees awarded by U.S. institutions in 2017 declined slightly to 54,664, according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). Over time, the number of doctorates awarded shows a strong upward trend—average annual growth of 3.3%—punctuated by periods of slow growth and even decline.
Since the SED began collecting data in 1957, the number of research doctorates awarded in science and engineering (S&E) fields has exceeded the number of non-S&E doctorates, and the gap has widened. From 1977 to 2017, the number of S&E doctorate recipients has more than doubled, while the number of non-S&E doctorates awarded in 2017 was slightly lower than the 1977 count. As a result, the proportion of S&E doctorates climbed from 58% in 1977 to 76% in 2017.
Doctorates awarded in S&E fields, by citizenship: 1998–2017
In 2017, the number of doctorates in S&E fields awarded to temporary visa holders was 14,166, a decline of 159 from 2016. Overall growth was still up 77% since 1998 and 9% since 2008. The proportion of S&E doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders peaked at 41% in 2007 but has held steady at around 36% since 2011.
In comparison, the number of S&E doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents grew 2% from 2016 to 2017 but experienced a slower growth overall (32% since 1998 and 29% since 2008), although from a larger base.
Top 10 countries or economies of foreign citizenship for U.S. doctorate recipients with temporary visas: 2008–17
Countries or economies of foreign citizenship
The number of doctorate recipients on temporary visas is highly concentrated in a few countries of origin. In the past decade, 10 countries accounted for 71% of the doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders, and the top three countries—China, India, and South Korea—accounted for over half (54%).
S&E = science and engineering.
China includes Hong Kong. Ranking based on total number of doctorate recipients.
Sex and citizenship of U.S. doctorate recipients: 1998–2017
Since 2002, women have earned a slim majority of all doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents and more than 31% of those awarded to temporary visa holders. From 1998 to 2007, the share of female doctorate recipients grew from 47% to 51% among U.S. citizens and permanent residents and from 26% to 35% among temporary visa holders. Since 2007, the shares of female doctorates in both citizenship categories have changed little. Overall, 46% of all doctorates in 2017 were awarded to women.
Sex and field of study of U.S. doctorate recipients: 1998–2017
Field of study
Most of the growth in the number of doctorates earned by both men and women has been in S&E fields. From 1998 to 2017, the number of female doctorate recipients in S&E fields increased by 73%, far more than the 30% growth in the number of male S&E doctorates. Women’s share of S&E doctorates awarded increased from 36% in 1998 to 42% in 2009, and it has remained stable since then.
In non-S&E fields, 58% of doctorates were awarded to women in 2017, a share that has changed little since 2007. The number of female non-S&E doctorate recipients has slightly increased over the past 20 years, whereas the number of male doctorates in those fields has declined.
Race and ethnicity
Doctorates earned by underrepresented minority U.S. citizens and permanent residents: 2008–17
Participation in doctoral education by underrepresented minorities who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents is increasing, though from a small base. From 2008 to 2017, the number of doctorates awarded to blacks or African Americans increased by 23%, and the number of Hispanic or Latino doctorate recipients increased by 43%. As a result, the proportion of doctorates earned by each group during this period grew from 6% to 7%. The proportion of American Indian or Alaska Native doctorate recipients has remained under 1%.
Excludes U.S. citizen and permanent resident respondents who did not report race or ethnicity. Hispanic or Latino may be any race.