Why the US science and engineering workforce is aging rapidly

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Apr 11;114(15):3879-3884. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1611748114. Epub 2017 Mar 27.


The science and engineering workforce has aged rapidly in recent years, both in absolute terms and relative to the workforce as a whole. This is a potential concern if the large number of older scientists crowds out younger scientists, making it difficult for them to establish independent careers. In addition, scientists are believed to be most creative earlier in their careers, so the aging of the workforce may slow the pace of scientific progress. We develop and simulate a demographic model, which shows that a substantial majority of recent aging is a result of the aging of the large baby boom cohort of scientists. However, changes in behavior have also played a significant role, in particular, a decline in the retirement rate of older scientists, induced in part by the elimination of mandatory retirement in universities in 1994. Furthermore, the age distribution of the scientific workforce is still adjusting. Current retirement rates and other determinants of employment in science imply a steady-state mean age 2.3 y higher than the 2008 level of 48.6.

Keywords: aging; demography; innovation; retirement; science of science.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution*
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Engineering*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Mortality
  • Population Growth
  • Retirement / statistics & numerical data
  • Science*
  • United States
  • Workforce