Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers help drive our nation's innovation and competitiveness by generating new ideas and new companies.1 For example, workers who study or are employed in these fields are more likely to apply for, receive, and commercialize patents.2 STEM knowledge also has other benefits; while often very specialized, it can be transferred to a wide variety of careers, particularly management occupations, while increased technology in the workplace means that, to handle non-repetitive tasks, workers need the critical thinking and technical skills that come with STEM training.3
A wealth of data is produced by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics on many aspects of the STEM economy. Using data from these agencies, particularly the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS) and American Community Survey (ACS), allows us to look closely at the trends in STEM and perform a detailed analysis of wages and employment that goes beyond most published studies on STEM.
This report, the first in a series of upcoming reports from OCE on the STEM economy, is an update of findings from our previous report, "STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future." Future reports will update previous research by this office on sex, race, and ethnicity in STEM jobs, as well as present new findings about the geography of STEM jobs and the skills needed to participate in this vital sector of the economy.
Key findings for this update, which are consistent with previous research, including research done by the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) are that:
- In 2015, there were 9.0 million STEM workers in the United States. About 6.1 percent of all workers are in STEM occupations, up from 5.5 percent just five years earlier.
- Employment in STEM occupations grew much faster than employment in non-STEM occupations over the last decade (24.4 percent versus 4.0 percent, respectively), and STEM occupations are projected to grow by 8.9 percent from 2014 to 2024, compared to 6.4 percent growth for non-STEM occupations.
- STEM workers command higher wages, earning 29 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts in 2015. This pay premium has increased since our previous report, which found a STEM wage advantage of 26 percent in 2010.
- Nearly three-quarters of STEM workers have at least a college degree, compared to just over one-third of non-STEM workers.
- STEM degree holders enjoy higher earnings, regardless of whether they work in STEM or non-STEM occupations. A STEM degree holder can expect an earnings premium of 12 percent over non-STEM degree holders, holding all other factors constant.
1 workers whose occupations are in STEM fields.
2 Thomasian, John. "Building a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education Agenda: An Update of State Actions." National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, 2011. Available at https://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/1112STEMGUIDE.PDF.
3 Carnevale, Anthony P., Nicole Smith, and Michelle Melton. "STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics." Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2011. Available at https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew- reports/stem/.