Washington Update

NSF Releases Report on Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities

By: France-Elvie Banda
Thursday, February 23, 2023
On January 30, the National Science Foundation (NSF) National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) released its 2023 Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities report. The report provides insights on the current standing of historically excluded groups in areas of STEM employment and educational attainment using data from 2011–2021. 

In a shift from previous reports, NSF has expanded the STEM labor force definition to include workers in science and engineering (S&E), science and engineering related (S&E related), and middle-skill occupations. NSF defines the occupations as:
  • S&E occupations require a bachelor’s degree for entry and include five major categories of workers: (1) computer and mathematical scientists, (2) biological, agricultural, and environmental life scientists, (3) physical scientists, (4) social scientists, and (5) engineers, 
  • S&E-related occupations require STEM skills and expertise, but they do not fall into the five main S&E categories. This subset includes healthcare workers, S&E managers, S&E precollege teachers, and technologists and technicians.
  • Middle-skill occupations require considerable STEM skills and expertise but do not typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry. These positions are primarily in the areas of construction trades, installation, maintenance, and production. 

The report notes a gradual increase over the past decade in the representation of American Indian and Alaskan Natives, Black/African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, and women. The proportion of white STEM workers decreased from 74 percent in 2011 to 64 percent in 2021, further highlighting an increase in diversity. In 2021, the proportion of historically excluded groups in STEM increased, from 9.4 million to 12.3 million for women, 11 percent for people with at least one disability, 3.1 million to 5.1 million for Hispanic/Latinos, 2 million to 3 million for Black/African Americans, and 2 million to 3.6 million for Asians. 

This growth can be attributed to positive gains in educational attainment.  Trends in representation at the graduate level are encouraging, though field of study often had a large impact. From 2017 to 2021, the number of women enrolled in S&E master’s programs increased by 37 percent and in doctoral programs by 16 percent. Doctoral programs overall are still dominated by men, but women represent more than half of enrollees in life sciences, multidisciplinary sciences, and social and behavioral sciences. 

Engineering and mathematics, for both doctoral and master’s programs, are the farthest from parity, with women making up only 27 to 34 percent of enrollment in those fields. 

Analyzing graduate enrollment by race and ethnicity, Asian and white students are overrepresented. This disparity is more pronounced at the doctoral level; S&E doctoral enrollees who are Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Hispanic represent a share of enrollment that is approximately half of the overall share of the 18- to 34-year-old population. Although representation is still lacking, since 2017 there has been an increase in S&E graduate enrollment of these historically excluded populations—Hispanic enrollment grew 56 percent, Black enrollment grew 36 percent, and American Indian or Alaska Native enrollment grew 11 percent. 

As with sex, representation is not evenly distributed among different fields of study: Black, American Indian and Alaska Native, and Hispanic doctoral students were most prevalent in social or behavioral sciences; Black and American Indian and Alaska Native doctoral enrollees were least represented in physical and earth sciences, and Hispanic doctoral enrollees were least represented in mathematics and computer sciences.

Despite advances in diversity and representation, income disparities persist. Even in S&E related and middle-skill occupations, where historically excluded groups in STEM are heavily represented, white men continue to earn more. In S&E-related occupations, the median earnings for men were $80,000, compared with $60,000 for women, $56,000 for Hispanic and Latinos, $54,000 for Black/African Americans, and $53,000 for people with at least one disability. When broken down by occupational subsets, we find greater representation for historically excluded communities in S&E related occupations and middle-skill occupations. 
  • Among men, half (52 percent) worked in middle-skill occupations, whereas over two-thirds (68 percent) of women worked in S&E-related occupations.
  • Among Hispanics and American Indians or Alaska Natives in the STEM workforce, the greatest proportions worked in middle-skill occupations (63 percent and 52 percent, respectively) and the smallest proportions worked in S&E occupations (14 percent each).
  • The highest share of Black or African American STEM workers was in S&E-related occupations (44 percent).