Minority Scientists Are Less Likely To Find Jobs

And more disturbing stats from a biennial report on women and minorities in science and engineering. Though it's not all bad!

You probably already know that women and certain minorities are underrepresented in science and engineering in the U.S. But a recent report from the the National Science Foundation shows just how pronounced that gap is.

The report comes out every two years, and it tracks women, minorities, and people with disabilities in science and engineering. The latest report uses figures from 2010, the most recent year for which data was available. The highlights include trends that are both expected and unexpected:


Minority scientists and engineers are more likely to be unemployed. In 2010, unemployment rates were highest for Asian women and underrepresented minority men and women scientists, with each around 7 percent. (That was still quite a bit under the average national unemployment rate that year, which was 9.6 percent.) The unemployment rate for white men in science and engineering was 3.6 percent.

By the way, Asians aren’t considered an underrepresented race in math and science. In 2010, 18 percent of U.S. scientists and engineers were Asian, while Asians represented only 4.7 percent of the U.S. population. The National Science Foundation counts black, Hispanic and American Indian people as underrepresented minorities in science.

Among the roughly 4 percent of white male engineers and scientists who say they’re unemployed, 71 percent say they’re unemployed because they’re retired. That’s much more than the next group: Unemployed, underrepresented minority male scientists, 52 percent of whom say they’re unemployed because they’re retired.

The reasons for unemployment vary between different races and sexes of scientists.

Women were four to six times more likely to be unemployed because of family responsibilities than men, and Asian men and underrepresented minority men and women were the most likely to say they’re unemployed because of a layoff or because there aren’t jobs available.

Current and future scientists

The majority of working scientists and engineers (51 percent) are white men, with the next-largest groups being white women (18 percent) and Asian men (13 percent). One promising detail: these figures probably won’t stay that way forever. Women and underrepresented minorities are earning greater and greater shares of math and science degrees every year, it’s just that the job market, which includes scientists who might have trained any time in the last 30 years, doesn’t yet reflect that diversity.

There is still a significant gap in certain fields, though.

In the social sciences and biology, women earned half or more of the degrees granted at all levels. And they earned between 70 to 80 percent of the degrees in psychology. They still earned fewer than half of the degrees given in math and the physical sciences, however, and fewer than 30 percent of the degrees given in engineering and the computer sciences.

The numbers of underrepresented minorities earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in math and science have increased slowly but steadily since 1991. The share of doctorates going to underrepresented minorities has leveled out and stayed below 8 percent since about 2004.

Historically black colleges

Historically black colleges and universities are an important early training ground for black PhDs. Thirty percent of black doctorates in math, science or engineering got their bachelor’s at a historically black institution. A couple of the better-known places include Howard University in Washington, DC, and Morehouse College in Georgia, but there are more than 100 historically black colleges in the U.S..

The ivory tower

For full-time academic scientists of all stripes, median salaries are pretty similar. They start at about $50,000 for freshly minted doctorates and hit about $80,000 after more than a dozen years of experience.

Women have made big gains in academia. The share of female math and science full-time professors in 2010 is more than double the share in 1993. But the overall number is still small: Women make up only 22 percent of math and science full-time professors.

Underrepresented minorities have made smaller gains than women in ivory towers across the U.S. In 1993, 3.8 percent of full-time math and science professors were black or Hispanic. In 2010, 5.9 percent were.

Women and underrepresented minorities are less likely to receive federal grants to do research, too, a phenomenon the National Institutes of Health have begun to track.