Big Companies Dominate R&D Employment

Nov. 14, 2016
But small businesses devote a greater share of operations to R&D.

Companies active in research and development (R&D) employed 1.5 million scientists, engineers, researchers, managers, technicians, support staff and other R&D workers in 2013, according to a new report from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). R&D workers account for just over 1% of total business employment in the Unites States. The three largest industry groups in terms of domestic R&D employment in 2013 were:

  • Software publishing (181,000 R&D workers).
  • Pharmaceuticals and medicine (117,000).
  • Semiconductors and other electronic components (109,000).

Large companies dominated R&D employment, accounting for two-thirds of the total 1.5 million workers. However, small companies devote a greater share of their operations to R&D, due in part to the fact that small businesses include more startups. R&D workers make up 11.7% of the total workforce at small companies active in R&D, in contrast to 6.5% at large companies.

Women accounted for one-quarter of the 1.5 million total R&D workers, consistent with their under representation in science and engineering fields of study. The fields that saw the highest rates of representation for women were pharmaceuticals and medicine, as well as scientific R&D services, a category largely made up of contractors that assist pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies.

Industries with large numbers of employees but low representation of women -- including software publishing and computer and electronic products -- typically employ R&D workers from educational fields such as engineering and computer science, areas where women have historically had low participation rates. Two-thirds of business R&D employees in the U.S. were scientists, engineers or R&D managers, and the remainder were technicians or other support staff.

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