Science Directions

APA's Center for Workforce Studies collects, analyzes and shares data on the educational pipeline and labor force of psychology. Housed within the Science Directorate, the center conducts its own major periodic surveys and draws upon national sources of data to gain a better understanding of the supply, demand and need for psychologists. Much of the center's work focuses on psychology's contribution to health-related services. Understanding the settings in which psychologists work, and the nature of their work in those settings, is critical to assessing the nation's future health-care needs. We know, for example, that an aging population will increase the need for psychologists who provide services for older adults. What we do not know is how many psychologists currently meet this need, nor how many more will be needed to keep pace with the growing societal demand.

Psychologists who provide health-related services are keenly aware of the importance of an ongoing workforce analysis. Those of us who work in basic research, however, may be less attuned to the need for such analyses that bear on the workforce of science. Yet, the environment for science and research is rapidly changing, and scientists in all fields (including psychology) must pay more attention.

Perhaps the best source of data on the scientific workforce is the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators, published by the National Science Foundation. The 2012 edition was just released, and it continues to provide great insight into psychological science, especially within the context of other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.

The latest employment figures in the Indicators show that recent psychology doctorates experience some of the lowest unemployment rates in all of science, engineering and health-related fields. And very few of those recent psychology doctorates are working involuntarily out of their field.

Repeating a long-standing trend, fewer than 20 percent of early career research psychologists hold tenure or tenure-track positions at academic institutions. A growing number of psychology graduates are taking postdoctoral positions, reflecting a very typical career trajectory for those who earn doctorates in the sciences.

The salary data are also revealing. Research psychologists in the education sector earn close to the average across all science and engineering fields. Where they fall short, however, is in business and industry, where recent doctorates in psychology earn substantially less than their colleagues in most other science and engineering fields.

Most of the Indicators analysis focuses on recent recipients of the doctoral degree. Yet it is clear that this analysis considers those who have earned a bachelor's or master's degree as legitimate members of the scientific workforce. The data reinforce the economic value of the doctorate in the sense that unemployment rates are lower and salaries are higher when compared with those who have bachelor's or master's degrees. But the analysis also reminds us that the doctorate degree is not always the minimal degree for entry into the scientific workforce.

The Indicators data provide a wealth of good information. Yet, much remains to be done to make the data collected by federal statistical agencies of greater value to psychological science. For example, the taxonomies that are used to identify subfields of psychology are out of date and fail to reflect where much of the field is right now. And relatively little is known about what most psychologists who work outside the academy are doing in their jobs. APA's Center for Workforce Studies is beginning to address these issues. By working with federal agencies and initiating its own data collection efforts, the center will help all of us gain a much better understanding of the workforce of psychological science.