STEM Job Growth Expected to Exceed Growth in Non-STEM Jobs Over the Next Decade

Growth in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) jobs is expected to continue to outpace growth in non-STEM jobs over the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released new 10-year employment projections in December for 2014 to 2024. At the detailed occupation level, 603 out of 821 occupations are expected to grow over this period while employment in 198 occupations is projected to decline; 20 occupations are expected to see no growth or decline in employment over the next ten years. For STEM occupations, 8% are expected to decline over the next decade compared with 27% of non-STEM occupations.[1]

On average, STEM jobs pay a large premium over non-STEM jobs. Based on 2014 wages, STEM occupations paid an average of $85,200 compared with $45,100 for non-STEM occupations. While part of this wage gap is due to differences in educational attainment,[2] STEM employees with a bachelor’s degree or higher command higher average annual wages ($92,800) than non-STEM employees with at least a bachelor’s degree (average annual wages of $83,900).

In addition to paying high wages, STEM jobs have grown faster than non-STEM jobs over the past decade and are expected to continue that trend over the next ten years. As of the third quarter of 2015, there were 9.2 million workers in STEM occupations in the United States, making up 6.1% of total employment in the nation.[3] From the third quarter of 2005 to the third quarter of 2015, STEM employment increased 9.8%, twice as fast as the 4.5% increase experienced in non-STEM employment. Employment in STEM occupations is projected to increase 10.1% from the third quarter of 2015 through the third quarter of 2025 while non-STEM employment is forecast to rise 6.5%.  

Growth and Projected Growth for STEM vs. non-STEM EmploymentGrowth and Projected Growth for STEM vs. non-STEM Employment

All STEM jobs are not expected to grow equally, however. At the major occupation group level, projected employment growth for STEM occupations over the next decade ranges from 14.3% for computer and mathematical occupations down to 4.0% for architecture and engineering occupations (below the average expected growth in Non-STEM jobs). Not surprisingly, within major occupation groups projected employment growth for STEM occupations also varies by detailed occupation. In the computer and mathematical occupations group, for example, employment for mathematical technicians is expected to grow at a 0.3% annual average rate compared with 2.5% projected growth for web developers.

Employment Growth for STEM Occupations by Major Group, 2015:Q3-2025:Q3
SOC Major Group Projected Growth Rate
Computer and Mathematical Occupations14.3%
Education, Training, and Library Occupations12.6%
Management Occupations10.9%
Life, Physical, and Social Science Occupations8.5%
Sales and Related Occupations8.2%
Architecture and Engineering Occupations4.0%
Source: BLS and JobsEQ®

[1] STEM occupations were identified based on the SOC Policy Committee recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget; health occupations were excluded. For more on defining STEM, see our related blog.

[2] Eighty-one percent of those employed in STEM occupations hold at least a bachelor’s degree compared with 25% of those employed in non-STEM occupations.

[3] Employment includes estimates for proprietors as well as railroad and religious employees that are not covered by unemployment insurance.

Searching for Commonality in STEM Occupation Definitions

The media often reports that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) jobs are in-demand.  They have been growing, are expected to continue growing, and generally pay a good wage. But when it comes to the occupations that should count as“STEM jobs,” there is far less agreement.

Forecasts and reports of STEM growth are often cited in the media, but different definitions make comparisons between studies extremely difficult, if not impossible. To explore this problem, we compared four often-used definitions of STEM occupations:

Among the different definitions, 314 unique occupation titles were identified as STEM. Those 314 titles represent over a third of the 840 detailed Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes.[1]

The Department of Commerce study had the narrowest definition, with 54 occupations. The SOC Policy Committee recommended 184 STEM occupation codes and was the only definition to include healthcare occupations (64 health occupations).

Common STEM Occupational Definitions Between Four Sources

Only 17 titles were included in all four definitions of STEM occupations. About half of these 17 occupations are engineers, while another 4 are related to computer science. Math is represented by mathematicians and statisticians, while science is limited to astronomers, atmospheric and space scientists, and natural sciences managers.

Based on the 4 STEM definitions reviewed here, the following 17 occupations should be included in any analysis of STEM jobs, though they are clearly not comprehensive (the complete list is shown in alphabetical order):

STEM Occupations Defined in All Four Sources
Aerospace Engineers Computer Programmers
Agricultural Engineers Database Administrators
Astronomers Environmental Engineers
Atmospheric and Space Scientists Mathematicians
Biomedical Engineers Mechanical Engineers
Chemical Engineers Natural Sciences Managers
Computer and Information Systems Managers Nuclear Engineers
Computer Hardware Engineers Petroleum Engineers
Source: Chmura Economics & Analytics

Similarly, 22 occupations were included in three definitions. Often in this category, the incongruence between sources is due to SOC code changes over time and/or degree of detail in the occupation code chosen (the full list is presented in the table below in alphabetical order):

STEM Occupations Defined in Three Sources
Biochemists and Biophysicists

Marine Engineers and Naval Architects

Biological Technicians

Materials Engineers

Chemical Technicians

Materials Scientists


Mining and Geological Engineers, Including Mining Safety Engineers

Civil Engineers

Network and Computer Systems Administrators

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Operations Research Analysts

Computer Network Architects


Electrical Engineers

Sales Engineers

Electronics Engineers, Except Computer

Software Developers, Applications

Industrial Engineers

Software Developers, Systems Software

Information Security Analysts

Surveying and Mapping Technicians

Source: Chmura Economics & Analytics

Although the definition of STEM is somewhat dependent on how the information is used, there is some common ground in defining STEM occupations. Thirty-nine detailed occupation codes match across at least three sources, and 64 of the 215 codes with only one source can be explained by their relation to healthcare—usually differentiated in STEM-H definitions.

As we read and conduct studies about STEM jobs, these common occupations should be kept in mind as the types of jobs typically considered “STEM.”

The full list of occupations and number of sources is show here: STEM Occupations.

Research support provided by Patrick Clapp.

[1] Some of the occupations are from older SOC definitions, cross two or more codes, or are otherwise not included in the standard detailed codes (hence much of the problem with pinning down a definition).

Highlights from the New Occupation Employment Projections

Every two years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) updates their employment growth projections for both occupations and industries. We looked at highlights of the industry changes last month. Here we look at highlights and implications of the occupation forecasts.

Every one of the major occupation groups has slower job growth forecast compared to the previous. Healthcare occupations are still expected to grow the fastest—this includes healthcare support (+2.1% average annualized rate, 2014-2024) and healthcare practitioners and technical occupations (+1.5% AAR). The computer and mathematical group as well as personal care and service occupations have the next-highest growth projections at 1.2% per year. Construction and extraction occupations are still expected to see above-average job growth (+1.0% AAR), though this is twice as slow compared to the prior forecast. Two groups are expected to see declines from 2014-2024: production and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations.

Among the healthcare occupations, occupational therapy and physical therapist assistants and aides are expected to continue to be among the fastest growing (+3.4% AAR 2014-2024). Home health aides are also expected to see employment expand quickly (+3.3% AAR 2014-2024), though a bit slower than in the prior estimates (+4.0% AAR 2012-2022). Among notable changes, job growth expectations for pharmacy occupations have been lowered. Growth for pharmacists is now expected to be a below-average 0.3% AAR in 2014-2024 compared to prior expectations of 1.4% AAR growth in 2012-2022. Pharmacy technician jobs are projected to expand 0.9% AAR in 2014-2024 compared to 1.8% AAR expectations in 2012-2022. Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses (LPNs) are both projected to see 1.5% AAR growth 2014-2024—this represents just a slight slowing for RNs (+1.8% AAR in 2012-2022), but more of a lowered expectation for LPNs (+2.2% AAR in 2012-2022).

Within the computer occupation group, employment growth for web developers is projected to be the fastest (+2.4% AAR 2014-2024) in addition to being upgraded from prior expectations (+1.9% AAR 2012-2022). Information security analyst jobs are still expected to grow briskly (+1.7% AAR 2014-2024) though not quite as hot as previously forecast (+3.2% AAR 2012-2022). Computer programmer jobs were previously expected to grow at a slower-than-average pace (+0.8% AAR 2012-2022), but that occupation is now expected to contract (-0.8% AAR 2014-2024).

While production occupation employment overall is expected to decline, some production occupations are projected to expand. Food processing workers, for example, are expected to see modest growth (+0.3% AAR 2014-2024), the same expectation as in the prior forecast. Woodworkers were expected to expand in the 2012-2022 forecast, but are projected to see a slight annualized 0.1% decline in 2014-2024. Printing workers are expected to see employment declines (-1.5% AAR 2014-2024) at a quicker pace compared to the last projection (-0.5% 2012-2022).

Previously on this site we’ve talked about the hollowing out of the middle class and illustrated what that looked like over the past ten years. With the new BLS projections, we look at the next ten years and see no relief from this trend. The twenty percent of jobs with the highest wages are forecast to expand faster than average (+9.9% over the next ten years) and the twenty percent of jobs with the lowest wages are expected to grow faster than average (+6.8% over the same period). That leaves the middle sixty percent getting pinched—growing at a below-average 5.2%. Bottom line: ten years from now, if these forecasts play out, the middle class will be relatively smaller than it is today.

For job-seekers using the new BLS forecasts to gauge career prospects, it is important to note that job growth expectations should be considered along with replacement needs—openings resulting from retirements and movement between occupations—to get a full picture of expected employment opportunities. Regional factors also play a large role in job opportunities, and regional demand can be gauged with the help of a local labor market tool such as JobsEQ®.

Highlights from the New Industry Employment Projections

Every two years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics updates their long-term growth projections for industry and occupation employment. Their latest was published earlier this month and includes many notable changes.

The biggest change, perhaps, is in the forecast for overall employment growth. For the 2012-2022 period, job growth overall was expected to average 1.0% per year—equivalent to about 1.6 million jobs per year. For 2014-2024, however, job growth is expected to be an average annualized 0.6%, or little under 1.0 million per year. Contributing to this slower projection is the aging baby boom generation which is moving into retirement and out of the labor force.

In the industry projections, nearly all of the sectors that had been projected to expand in 2012-2022 are expected to continue to grow but more slowly. The health care and social assistance sector is forecast to grow the quickest, at a 1.9% average annualized rate (AAR). Construction is projected to expand at a 1.2% pace, much slower than the 2.6% rate projected for 2012-2022. Professional and business services as well as educational services are projected to have above-average 0.9% annualized growth for 2014-2024.

Nonagriculture self-employment is the only group to have an increase in its rate of expected growth, from 0.6% AAR in 2012-2022 to 0.7% AAR for 2014-2024. This is another projection influenced by shifting demographics as older workers, in general, are more likely to be self-employed.

While health care industries are expected to see quick job growth in 2014-2024—especially home health care services (+4.8% AAR) and outpatient care centers (+4.1% AAR)—projections for social assistance job growth were muted. Child day care services (+0.7% AAR) and individual and family services (+1.3% AAR) are both projected to expand employment, but at significantly slower paces compared with 2012-2022 expectations.

Within the education sector, the private postsecondary schools are forecast to have slower employment growth. Private junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools were projected to have 2.2% annualized average job growth in 2012-2022, but that forecast was cut to 1.2% per year for 2014-2024. This slowdown shouldn’t be a surprise in the light of the decline in college-aged population.

Within manufacturing, wood product is expected to contract employment at an annualized pace of 0.2% in 2014-2024, much slower than prior expectations of an average pace of 1.4% job growth for 2012-2022. Manufacturing industries that are expected to expand employment in 2014-2024 include architectural and structural metals (+0.3% AAR); agriculture, construction, and mining machinery (+0.5% AAR); medical equipment and supplies (+0.1% AAR); and beverage manufacturing (+0.3% AAR).

The professional, scientific, and technical services sector is expected to continue to grow at an above-average pace. Fast-growing industries in this sector are projected to include computer systems design and related services (+2.1% AAR 2014-2024); management, scientific, and technical consulting services (+2.4% AAR); and architectural, engineering, and related services (+0.8% AAR).

As mentioned in the opening, the BLS also updated their occupation projections. We’ll go into highlights from those in my next blog post.

Tracking Liftoff: Liftoff!

In a highly anticipated move, the Federal Reserve finally raised the target range for the federal funds rate, hiking it by a quarter-percentage point. This was the first rate hike in nearly a decade and signals the central bank’s confidence in the U.S. economy. The course of interest rate normalization is expected to be gradual but will ultimately be determined by incoming economic data. Based on the Fed’s “dot plot,” which shows Federal Open Market Committee members’ expectations for interest rates in the future, officials are expecting the federal funds rate target to increase one percentage point by this time next year.

View the evolution of this decision in our interactive graphic below.