was that the fraction of the workforce involved in science, technology, and engineering grew from roughly 11 percent in 1962 to 15 percent in 1995.

That conclusion is consistent with the observations of those of us who lived through that period. Our everyday life has changed markedly through increases in the fruits of technology that have emerged from science. For example, I find it wonderful to be able to fly around the world at a rate that was impossible when I was young. There couldn 't be that many airplanes up in the sky 40 years ago because the computers weren't available, nor were the jets. Then there is music. I can remember constructing my first hi-fi system in the mid-1950s. Now you see people with CD players strapped to their waists and getting higher fidelity through the headphones than anything most of us could obtain in that period. That is the consequence of the laser, the transistor, the integrated circuit, and all sorts of sophisticated digital processes. I cannot help but observe, as well, people roller-skating on the beautiful rollerblades that have resulted from the development of plastics that were unknown when I was a child—we used metal-wheeled roller skates that were far less satisfactory.

Clearly, the world has changed technologically and the fraction of our workforce involved in science and technology has increased. The next, obvious question is, Do we expect that trend to continue? Our sense is yes. One indication comes from Bureau of Labor Statistics projections of where we will need more people over the next decade. Almost all of the fastest-growing positions are related to information technology or health care. Those projections imply that it is likely that the fraction of the workforce devoted to ST&E will increase. There is another argument that can be made.

We know from all of the discussion of Social Security that our population is aging and that the ratio of workers to retired people is decreasing. That is why we worry about the future solvency of Social Security. But we can consider the broader implications of that change and conclude that if we don't have increases in productivity per worker, the standard of living will decline for everyone. The stock market will drop in value, the dollar will drop in value relative to other currencies, or there will be inflation. Something will happen to cause the average standard of living to decline if we cannot increase productivity per worker.

How do you increase productivity per worker? It's primarily through science and technology. You often hear the President, the Vice President, and many economists say that science and technology have accounted for over one-half of the increase in productivity per worker over the last half century. So we are going to need more scientists, engineers, and technicians, and everyone has a stake in that happening—even people like me who are going to retire in a few years—if we want to see our standard of living maintained, not to speak of the benefits to health, to the environment, and to national security.

With that in mind, we at OSTP have looked at other demographic projections. Figure 3.1 shows the fraction of the population that is in the age group 18 to 64 years, which we use as a surrogate for the workforce, projected over the next 50 years by the Census Bureau. The different curves represent projections for various subgroups of the population. The top two curves, representing the fraction of the population that is non-Hispanic white male and female, are practically superimposed, as you would expect. Both show a steady decline. What the graph does not show is that the group that has traditionally provided most of our ST&E workforce—non-Hispanic white males—is projected to decline in absolute as well as relative size after 2010. Increasing markedly is the Hispanic portion of the population. Increasingly somewhat less markedly is the Asian-American portion of the population and increasing somewhat is the African-American portion of the population.

Why is there cause for concern? As I said, traditionally, and particularly in the fields that interest you today, non-Hispanic white males have comprised the dominant fraction of the ST&E workforce. Their fraction of the population is expected to decrease while groups that have participated at lower rates in the ST&E workforce are projected to become a significantly greater portion of the population.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement