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.

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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