Women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minority groups—blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, and American Indians or Alaska Natives—are underrepresented in science and engineering (S&E). That is, their representation in S&E education and S&E employment is smaller than their representation in the U.S. population.
Although women have reached parity with men among S&E bachelor’s degree recipients—half of S&E bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women in 2016—they are still underrepresented in S&E occupations. Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, and American Indians or Alaska Natives have gradually increased their share of S&E degrees, but they remain underrepresented in S&E educational attainment and in the S&E workforce. By contrast, Asians are overrepresented among S&E degree recipients and among employed scientists and engineers.
Underrepresentation and overrepresentation of women and racial or ethnic groups vary by field of study and occupation. Variations in the representation of these groups may be rooted in differences in precollege course taking, participation in S&E higher education, and overall educational attainment.
Women and underrepresented minorities constituted a substantial portion of the U.S. population ages 18–64 years old in 2017. Women were 51.5% of the population; Hispanics or Latinos, 14%; blacks or African Americans, 12%; Asians, 5%; and other racial and ethnic groups combined, 2%.
Noninstitutionalized resident population of the United States and civilian labor force of the United States, ages 18–64, by ethnicity, race, and sex: 2017
Hispanic or Latino may be any race. Other includes individuals not of Hispanic ethnicity who reported more than one race or a race not listed separately.
U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Sex, Age, Race, and Hispanic Origin for the United States and States: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2017, table PEPASR6H (June 2018), https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml, accessed 2018 June 29. Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor force statistics from the Current Population Survey, 2017, https://www.bls.gov/cps/. Related detailed data: WMPD table 1-2 and table 9-4.
According to the latest Census Bureau projections, minorities will account for 56% of the U.S. population by 2060. The largest growth is projected in the numbers of Hispanics, Asians, and persons of multiple races. Despite a projected increase of 41% in the number of black or African American individuals, the proportion is expected to increase by only 2 percentage points between 2016 and 2060, from 13% to 15% of the U.S. population.
Although women were over half the population ages 18–64 years old in 2017, they constituted 47% of the labor force—individuals who are employed or unemployed (not employed and actively looking for a job). This difference in the shares of population and labor force is due mainly to white women, who make up 34.5% of the population, but only 29% of the labor force. By contrast, Asian men and Hispanic or Latino men make up slightly larger shares of the labor force (3% and 10%, respectively) than of the population (2% and 7%).
As an example of the underrepresentation of women in S&E fields, the share of S&E research doctorates awarded to women in 2017 was 41% versus their 51.5% of the population and 47% of the labor force. Underrepresented minorities were awarded 11% of S&E research doctorates despite comprising 27% of the population and about 30% of the labor force. Conversely, Asians were awarded 31% of S&E research doctorates while being 5% of the population and 6% of the labor force. These trends will be examined in more detail in this digest.
Estimates of the proportion of the population with one or more disabilities vary depending on the definition of the term “disability.” Also, trends across time are difficult to determine because some surveys recently changed the wording of disability questions, leading to increases in the reporting and measurement of disability. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 11% of the working-age population reported some type of disability in 2016, with men and women reporting about the same percentages for having any disability and for each type of disability. The most frequently reported disabilities are ambulatory difficulty (5% of the working-age population) and cognitive difficulty (4.5%).
Disabilities do not necessarily limit a person’s ability to participate in educational experiences or to be productive in an occupation. Persons with one or more disabilities may or may not require special accommodation to enable them to succeed in school or at work.
U.S. population 18–64 years old with a disability and type of disability: 2016
Respondents can report more than one disability. Age categories drawn from published Census tables.
U.S. Census Bureau, 2016 American Community Survey, tables B18101–B18107, 1-Year Estimates, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml, accessed 2018 July 3. Related detailed data: WMPD table 1-3.