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R&D Employment by Businesses in the U.S.

Big companies dominate R&D employment, but small businesses devote a greater share of operations to R&D

by National Science Foundation
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top three industry groups employing domestic R&DSoftware, pharmaceuticals, and electronics components were among the top industry groups employing R&D.Image Credit: NSFCompanies 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).

Although R&D workers account for just over 1 percent of total business employment in the Unites States, they play a vital role in creating the new ideas and technologies that keep companies competitive, create new markets, and spur economic growth. 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 percent of the total workforce at small companies active in R&D, in contrast to 6.5 percent at large companies.

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Related Article: How Much Do Countries Invest in R&D?

Women accounted for one-quarter of the 1.5 million total R&D workers, consistent with their underrepresentation 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.

For more information, including a full breakdown of worldwide, domestic, and foreign R&D workers by field of industry, read the full report.