Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Occupations: A Visual Essay

Article excerpt

STEM occupations--technical jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--play an instrumental role in expanding scientific frontiers, developing new products, and generating technological progress. These occupations are concentrated in cuttingedge industries such as computer systems design, scientific research and development, and high-tech manufacturing industries. Although educational requirements vary, most of these occupations require a bachelor's degree or higher. Accordingly, STEM occupations are high-paying occupations, with most having mean wages significantly above the U.S. average. Using May 2009 data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, this visual essay takes a closer look at STEM occupations.

For the purposes of this essay, the STEM occupation group is defined as consisting of 97 specific occupations that made up about 6 percent of U.S. employment (1)--nearly 8 million jobs--in May 2009. These 97 occupations include those in computer and mathematical sciences, architecture and engineering, and life and physical sciences. Because managerial and postsecondary teaching occupations associated with these functional areas require similar skills and knowledge, these managerial and teaching occupations are included among the 97 occupations, as are two sales occupations that require scientific or technical education at the postsecondary level: sales engineers and wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives of technical and scientific products. This is only one possible definition of STEM occupations; other definitions exist that may be better suited for other uses. (2)

The first two charts in this visual essay present an overview of the largest STEM occupations as well as the highest- and lowest-paying STEM occupations. These charts are followed by information on the industries with especially large proportions of STEM occupations, and a more detailed look at one of these industries, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing. The remainder of the visual essay focuses on geographic differences in employment and wages for STEM occupations. Several charts in this last section rely on the concept of location quotients, which are ratios that compare an occupation's share of employment in an area to its share of U.S. employment. For example, an occupational group that makes up 10 percent of employment in a specific metropolitan area and 2 percent of U.S. employment would have a location quotient of 5 for that metropolitan area. A location quotient above 1 indicates a stronger-than-average local presence of STEM occupations.

The aggregate data for STEM occupations presented here are based on a special tabulation of Occupational Employment Statistics data created for this visual essay. OES estimates for individual STEM occupations, including national industry-specific data and cross-industry data for the Nation, States, and metropolitan/nonmetropolitan areas, are available from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics homepage at This visual essay was prepared by Ben Cover, John I. Jones, and Audrey Watson, economists in the OES program. For more information, contact the OES program at

1. Employment by occupation for the largest STEM occupations, May 2009


* Most of the largest STEM occupations were related to computers.

* The largest STEM occupations--computer support specialists; computer systems analysts; and computer software engineers, applications--each had employment of approximately 500,000. By comparison, the largest occupations overall, retail salespersons and cashiers, had employment of 4.2 and 3.4 million, respectively.

* The largest STEM occupation that is not specifically computer related was sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products, with employment of about 400,000.

2. Highest- and lowest-paying STEM occupations, May 2009


* Overall, STEM occupations were high-paying occupations. …