STEM Workforce and Education Facts

The STEM workforce (science, technology, engineering and math) has grown rapidly in recent decades. An updated analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics since the coronavirus outbreak began projects strong growth for many STEM occupations in the United States, particularly epidemiologists, medical scientists, biochemists and biophysicists, and biological technicians, among others. The prospects for increasing diversity in the STEM workforce are closely tied to the educational system. Even with dramatic growth in the number of STEM graduates from U.S. colleges and universities at all degree levels since 2010, there is little indication that diversity in related jobs will shift substantially in the near term.

  • Occupations in science, technology, engineering, and math in the U.S. have jumped from 9.7 million to 17.3 million since 1990, signifying a 79% increase.
  • Full-time STEM workers earn more on average than non-STEM occupations. The average salary for workers who graduated with a degree in a STEM subject is $101,100, while employees with degrees in other majors have an average salary of $87,600.
  • STEM workers are two times more likely than those in other fields to have earned their bachelor’s degree or higher education.
  • For STEM workers with some college education but no degree, the average salary is $54,745, compared to similarly educated non-STEM employees earning 26% less.
  • STEM workers faced lower unemployment compared to those not working in STEM (2% vs. 4%) in 2019, a pattern also seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Diversity Gap

  • Women make up 74% of the healthcare industry’s 9.8 million workers.
  • Overall, women are underrepresented in various STEM fields. Currently, women constitute 40% of physical science professionals, 25% of computer professionals, and 15% of engineers.
  • Since 1990, the percentage of women working in computer fields has decreased from 32% to 25%.
  • The Harvard Business Review reported that women working in STEM careers were 45% more likely than their male counterparts to leave the field within a year because of work environments that are allegedly hostile. A more recent study by Nature reported that 40% of women with science jobs either transition to part-time work or leave the sector altogether. Erin Cech, one of the researchers, explained that STEM is “culturally less tolerant and supportive of caregiving responsibilities than other occupations.”
  • The percentage of women working in the life sciences increased since 1990 from 34% to 48%.
  • Similarly, women represent 47% of employees in math-related fields.
  • Women of color make up a minority of graduates with STEM degrees, with  Asian women representing 5.3%, Latinas representing 4.3%, Black women representing 2.9%, and American Indian/Alaskan Native women representing 0.1%.
  • Black workers represent approximately 11% of the workforce, however they comprise only 6% of life and physical science and 5% of engineering and architecture jobs.
  • 71% of engineers are White.
  • Although Asian Americans only represent 6% of the general workforce, they comprise 13% of the STEM workforce.
  • When comparing median salaries, women working in STEM earn about 74% of what men working in STEM earn.
  • The median pay for Black STEM workers is 78% of the median pay for White STEM workers.

Looking Ahead

Research shows that diversity in the STEM workforce can have a positive effect on both a company’s culture and revenue. Although the road ahead is long, there are some glimmers of hope that suggest that the diversity gap will eventually be narrowed.

  • President Biden’s American Jobs plan includes a $48 million investment in workforce development that may lead to more women and people of color in the construction industry.
  • In 2020, more than 50 companies and organizations joined the Gender and Diversity KPI Alliance (GDKA) to adhere to key performance indicators that measure diversity and gender. Among the companies are Google, Pfizer, Deloitte, and Chevron; in 2021, General Motors made an announcement that it would be joining the GDKA.
  • According to a joint study conducted by the University of Maryland and Columbia Business School, companies that achieve gender diversity at their management levels can see an increase in value of up to $42 million.

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