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US female workers with doctorates in science, engineering, and health fields increasing

February 21, 2019

The number of U.S.-trained female science, engineering, or health (SEH) doctorate holders residing and working in the U.S. has more than doubled, going  from 119,350 in 1997 to 287,250 in 2017, according to a new report from the National Science Foundation (NSF). In 1997, less than one-fourth (23 percent) of the U.S.-trained SEH doctorate holders working in the U.S. were women. Twenty years later, that number had increased to 35 percent. While these percentages demonstrate a significant increase, they show that female participation is still lagging behind women’s share of the U.S. population. In the report, the NSF researchers also examined the growth in the number of female U.S.-trained SEH doctorate holders in several broadly defined S&T occupations including:

  • Biological, agricultural, and other life scientists – from 26,200 in 1997 to 59,150 (40.9 percent of total life scientists) in 2017;
  • Engineers – from 4,650 in 1997 to 16,950 (15.7 percent of total engineers) in 2017;
  • Physical and related scientists – from 9,150 in 1997 to 19,350 (23.3 percent of total physical and related scientists)in 2017;
  • Mathematical scientists – from 3,150 in 1997 to 10,750 (28.0 percent of total mathematical scientists) in 2017; and,
  • Computer scientists – from 3,350 in 1997 to 9,300 (17.0 percent of total computer scientists) in 2017.

Psychologists and social scientists also contributed greatly to the significant growth in the number of female U.S.-trained SEH doctorate holders residing and working in the United States. In the occupation fields of biological, agricultural, and other life scientists, over 40 percent of all U.S.-trained SEH doctorate holders residing and working in the United States in 2017 were female – up from less than 27 percent in 1997.

The report also presents data by industry sector (e.g., government, industry, and academia). The report found growth in all three broad industry sectors, which was driven by several subsectors employing more females including:

  • Approximately 52 percent of U.S.-trained SEH doctorate holders working at other educational institutions (2-year colleges, community colleges, technical institutes, and other precollege institutions) – up from 41 percent in 1997;
  • Approximately 45 percent of doctoral holders working as self-employed or at nonincorporated companies – up from approximately 37 percent in 1997;
  • Approximately 45 percent of doctoral holders working for nonprofits – up from 33 percent in 1997;
  • Approximately 27 percent of U.S.-trained SEH doctorate holders in the for-profit business or industry sector, up from 15 percent in 1997;
  • Approximately 42 percent of doctoral holders working for state or local governments – up from approximately 30 percent in 1997; and,
  • Approximately 35 percent of SEH doctorate holders working for the federal government in 2017 were women, compared to 18 percent in 1997.
nsf, stem. scientists, women