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Scientists and Engineers Have Among the Highest Employment Rates, Study Shows



A new study that looks into employment has found that doctoral recipients enjoy extremely high employment rates, especially in the fields of science and engineering.

The report from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCES) published on June 1 found that the doctoral workforce is generally outperforming the general population when it comes to finding and maintaining jobs.

The 2015-2025 Survey of Doctorate Recipients longitudinal panel is designed to provide information about employment changes among workers with science, health, or engineering research Ph.D. The LSDR 2015-2019 data file is the first release from the longitudinal study.

The information for the study was taken from science, engineering, and health (SEH) doctorate holders. The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics reports that as of 2015, there were approximately 856,000 U.S.-trained research doctorate holders in these fields who earned their doctorate before 2014 and were younger than 65.

These workers were initially surveyed in the annual Survey of Earned Doctorates in 2015, and now they are re-interviewed every two years for information on changes in employment status and career transitions.

The study will continue into 2025 with the same doctoral workers being subsequently interviewed in 2021, 2023, and 2025.

SEH Docoratal Workers Have Exceptionally High Employment Rates

In 2015, 96% of workers with a science, engineering, or health doctorate degree who were below the age of 66 were employed full-time in some capacity using their degree. By 2019, that percentage gradually declined to 92%. Retirement was the major reason for leaving the labor force during this time.

However, even with that decline, the number of engineers and scientists in the workforce is still much higher than the labor force of the same age in other sectors.

For reference, the LSDR reports that the labor force for those below the age of 66 in all other sectors during 2015 was around 77%. By 2019, the employment rate had risen to 78%.

The percentage of people not in the workforce during this time is thought to be a result of unemployment or other reasons for not working.

Unemployment Statistics Between Men and Women Vary 

The National Center for Science and Engineering states that unemployment “is uncommon throughout the highly trained SEH doctoral population.”

This study specifically looked at doctoral students who are considered to be early into their careers. This is classified as the first 10 years after earning an SEH research doctorate degree, meaning that those included in that bracket graduated with their doctoral degree between 2009 and 2013.

The study found that less than 4% of all SEH graduates in their early career reported being unemployed during one or more of the surveyed periods.

Of the early career doctorate holders, slightly more women than men were experiencing unemployment at the time the survey was taken in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

The study notes that a higher proportion of women than men reported not working during at least one of the reference periods. Around 16% of women reported being unemployed at some point during the study thus far, and 11% of men reported the same.

10% of female early-career doctorates said they were not working in either 2015 or 2017. Of that group, 60% were employed by the time of the survey in 2019.

On the other hand, there was a proportion of 4% of men who reported not working in 2015 or 2017. By 2019, 82% of that group reported being employed.

According to the study, 84% of all women and 89% of all men surveyed were employed during 2015, 2017, and 2019 survey periods.

Non-employed individuals are not considered to be “unemployed” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”Unemployed” is a term used to define the group of people who do not currently have a job but are actively looking for work. The unemployment and employment statistics may not add up to 100%, due to the proportion of people who are not looking for work for any reason or are retired.

SEH Doctoral Employees Moved Between Sectors 

A large part of this longitudinal study is meant to assign a numerical value for the doctoral employees in every sector who are changing employment sectors.

Many of the SEH doctoral workers interviewed for this survey reported moving between any of the eight sectors assigned in the study – academia, pre-college institutions, for-profit, self-employed, non-profit, U.S. federal, U.S. state, and non-U.S. government.

The study found that around one in five of the SEH doctoral workers employed during all three survey periods experienced some type of employment sector changes over the 6-year survey period.

Overall, early-career doctorate workers reported more changes than doctoral workers later in their careers. Women also saw more changes in their employment sector than men.

Those employed in the life sciences early in their career also saw the most change out of any other sector.  Nearly 35% of early-career doctorate workers reported a change in their employment sector within a life sciences role.

Alternatively, those employed in mathematics and statistics saw the least amount of change over the three survey periods.

Details of the Study

With the same doctoral workers being interviewed every two years over a 6-year period, researchers have been able to pinpoint just how high the rates of employment are for those who obtained their doctorate degree in science, engineering, or health research fields.

The doctoral workers were interviewed around the same time in 2015, 2017, and 2019. Since the study will continue into 2025, the same individuals will be subsequently interviewed in 2021, 2023, and 2025. The results from all six of these survey periods will be analyzed in a similar way as the results found thus far.

The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics notes that limitations to the data do exist.

The longitudinal data are flexible “in terms of offering population estimates at multiple points in time and marking transitions between various starting and ending points within the study period,” the Center said in the report. “For example, duration of unemployment, number of jobs and other types of transitions cannot be precisely measured” because of the short reference period in each survey.

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