Solid Employment Rates for Science Ph.D.s

Unemployment was up in 2010, but is down in 2013.

September 15, 2014
Wikimedia Commons

The 2013 unemployment rate for those with research doctoral degrees in science, engineering and health fields was 2.1 percent, one-third of the rate for the general population aged 25 or older, according to an analysis released by the National Science Foundation on Friday.

Ph.D.s in these fields -- who have many career options in and out of higher education -- historically have high employment levels. In 2001, the unemployment rate was only 1.3 percent. But the 2013 rate of 2.1 percent represents a meaningful drop from the 2.4 percent figure that the NSF found in 2010, at the height of the economic downturn that started in 2008.

Within the fields tracked by the NSF for this report, some (such as physics and engineering) had spikes in unemployment rates at the height of the downturn and have now come close to pre-downturn levels. Other fields -- such as the social sciences -- haven't shown significant changes in the last three years. (Many a humanities adjunct or grad student, of course, would look at these ups and downs with envy.)

Unemployment Rates for Ph.D.s in Science, Engineering and Health, by Field

Field 2008 2010 2013
Biological, agricultural, environmental and life sciences 1.9% 2.2% 2.2%
Computer and information sciences 1.2% 2.1% 1.8%
Mathematics and statistics 1.0% 1.5% 1.2%
Physical sciences 2.4% 3.5% 2.7%
Psychology 1.3% 1.7% 1.6%
Social sciences 1.3% 1.9% 1.9%
Engineering 1.8% 2.8% 1.9%
Health 1.0% 1.9% 2.0%

The above figures represent everyone in the workforce, and exclude those who are retired or not seeking work.

In looking at the statistics by gender, the most striking figure may be the percentage working part-time: 14.4 percent for women and 7.9 percent for men.

The part-time employment rate across all categories was just over 10 percent, with few differences by race and ethnicity, except that only 4.5 percent of Asian Ph.D.s in these fields are working part-time. The black unemployment rate of 3.1 percent was nearly twice the white rate of 1.6 percent.

Doctoral degree holders in these fields work in many fields outside of academe, but the largest single employer remains four-year colleges and universities, followed by private for-profit entities, private nonprofit entities and the federal government.


Back to Top