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  Cover Story  
  August 1, 2005
Volume 83, Number 31
pp. 41-51

2005 census of all ACS members in the workforce reveals lower unemployment and shifts in the chemical profession

Results from the latest annual American Chemical Society survey of the salaries and employment status of its members in the domestic workforce can best be described as mixed.

The good news on jobs is that unemployment is down to 3.1% from the record high level of 3.6% set last year and the 3.5% rate in 2003. However, the percentage of chemists who are holding full-time jobs remains essentially unchanged at a historic low of 90.8%, down from 90.9% last year. The uptick in employment has been for those with part-time jobs, from 3.6% to 4.1%. Postdocs moved from 1.9% to 2.0%.

The good news on salaries is that 2005 survey respondents who have the same employer this year as last and who reported their salaries as of both this March 1 and March 1 last year posted a year-to-year gain in median salaries of 5.0%. This value was up from a 4.3% increase last year.

The gain for bachelor's chemists this year was from $61,000 to $64,000 or 4.9%; for master's, from $71,000 to $75,000, or 5.6%; and for Ph.D.s, from $90,000 to $93,800, or 4.2%.

The salary gain for chemists as a whole was, as would be expected, more modest. Salaries rose from the median of $82,000 for all 2004 survey respondents to $83,000 for this year's respondents.

This approach of comparing medians from surveys conducted one year apart to determine salary gains for a large population whose makeup changes little from one year to the next--such as the chemical profession--is substantially a measure of inflation. It does not account for individual pay gains due to promotions and from growing experience and responsibility. The approach is also vulnerable to the vagaries of determining a relatively small number as the difference between two much larger numbers determined from different surveys.

The new survey also quantifies in detail the progress that women chemists have--or have not--made in their salaries relative to their male colleagues. The median salaries of $88,000 for all men and $68,000 for all women suggest that there hasn't been much movement.

But women chemists are, on average, seven years younger than men and less likely to have a Ph.D.--39% versus 63% of men. When the salaries of men and women with the same degree, the same amount of professional experience, and the same type of employer are compared, compensation for women--except for the relative few over about 60 years old--is at, or closely approaching, that of men.

This finding indicates that women chemists apparently are getting close to equal pay for equal work and experience. The continuing challenge for women chemists is to attain their appropriate roles in the better paying facets of the profession.

MECHANICS OF THE SURVEY. The 2005 survey was a census in the sense that the survey questionnaire was sent to all ACS members likely to be in the domestic workforce. The first such census was in 1985. ChemCensus has been conducted every fifth year since then. In the interim years, the survey questionnaire is sent to a random sample of about 25% of the target population.

ACS defines the chemical workforce as those holding full- or part-time jobs, on postdocs or fellowships, or unemployed but actively seeking employment. Respondents who indicate they are fully retired or otherwise not seeking employment are excluded from further analysis.

Survey questionnaires are sent to ACS full members who reside in the U.S.; are under 70 years of age; and are not in the retired, emeritus, or student member categories. In recent years, about 95% of survey respondents have met the criteria for being in the workforce.

For survey purposes, ACS defines chemists as those who identify any one of 15 chemical disciplines or specialties enumerated in the questionnaire as being the most closely related to their current or latest employment. Also counted as chemists are those with chemistry as their highest degree and who indicate business administration, computer science, law, or "other nonchemistry activities" as their specialty.

Questionnaires were sent to 86,600 society members for the 2005 census. Of these, 35,365 responded, which is a 41% response rate. Of the respondents, 32,797 identified themselves as chemists. Of these chemists, 1,758 indicated that they were unemployed and were not seeking employment. Eliminating this group left a sample of 31,309 ACS members who are in the domestic workforce. The noncensus 2004 survey had generated responses from 10,200 workforce chemists.

This year's 41% response rate was down from a peak of 53% for the 1995 census. The decline may partly be caused by survey fatigue among members in the face of ever-increasing surveying activity.

In 2005, 1,293 chemical engineers in the workforce responded. These responses are analyzed separately in a box on page 47. All other data in this report are for chemists only. Chemical engineers are those who indicate chemical engineering as their specialty, even if their highest degree is in chemistry.

Since 1996, ACS's salary and employment surveys have been conducted by Mary W. Jordan, workforce specialist for the Office of Member Information, under oversight by the ACS Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs. A series of more detailed reports on this year's census will be available early next year online and from the Office of Society Services. Questions about the content of the survey should be directed to Jordan at (202) 872-4433 or m_jordan@acs.org.

WORKFORCE. The 86,600 questionnaires mailed to ACS members for the 2005 census exactly equaled the mailing for the 1985 census. The mailing was at a peak of 94,100 for the 2000 census. This detail indicates an apparent decline of a little more than 7,000, or 8%, domestic workforce members over the past five years.

Such a setback is unique for a society that, with the exception of a brief dip in the early 1970s, had enjoyed uninterrupted growth in its total membership since the 1930s.

A number of factors may be involved in the current apparent decline. One is the increasing interdisciplinary nature of chemistry. This development is triggering increased efforts by ACS to attract and retain as members those who are working in nontraditional areas on the borders between chemistry and other sciences, such as small biotech research firms.

A second factor may be what has been happening to the U.S. workforce since 2000. In general, the jobs still just aren't there--at least not in the numbers that they were.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in June of this year, the number of employees on nonfarm payrolls, 133.5 million, was only 1.1 million higher than it had been four-and-a-half years earlier in December 2000, at the end of the longest and strongest economic expansion in U.S. history. This tepid growth compares with a payroll increase of 11.5 million over the previous four-and-a-half years.

The same pattern holds for total private-sector employment. In June this year, it finally regained its December 2000 level of 111.7 million. In the previous four-and-a-half years, it had grown by 11.6 million.

Also, the growth rate of the total national workforce, which is the sum of those employed plus those unemployed but actively seeking employment, has experienced a marked downturn. From 1996 to 2000, the average annual increase in the workforce was 2.1 million. Since 2000, this number has fallen to a 1.3 million average. Apparently, workers are showing a higher propensity to retire early--voluntarily or involuntarily--or otherwise drop out of the job market.

DEMOGRAPHICS. The most dramatic change over the past 20 years that is revealed by the censuses is the drop in the percentage of chemists who work in chemical and related manufacturing from 24.7% of the total in 1985 to 15.4% in 2005.

This decline is balanced by a boost in those working in pharmaceutical and related manufacturing--up to 21.6% in 2005 from 12.0% in 1985. A decline in those with jobs in "other" manufacturing--from 21.3% to 14.9%--drops the total percentage of chemists working in all manufacturing from 58.0% in 1985 to 51.9% this year.

Picking up much of this dip in manufacturing employment is the relative increase in academic employment--from 21.6% in 1985 to 27.4% in 2005.

This shift may be reflected in the upgrade in the qualification of ACS members in the workforce. Between 1985 and 2005, the percentage of chemists who have bachelor's as their highest degree fell from 25.4% to 19.9%, while those with Ph.D.s rose from 56.7% to 63.1%. Master's degrees remained more stable: 17.9% in 1985 and 17.0% in 2005.

A striking change over the past 20 years is the increasing age of ACS members in the chemical workforce. In 1985, 42.8% of working ACS members were less than 40 years old. In 2005, only 27.8% are. Between 1990, the lowest point, and 2005, the median age rose from 41.3 to 47.0.

Compared with some other sciences and professions, the chemistry profession has not been a leader in diversification over the past 20 years. But there have been changes. The percentage of women is up from 15.0% of the ACS member workforce in 1985 to 25.1% today.

The proportion of chemists who are not white has grown from 9.0% in the 1990 census to 14.2% in 2005. (The race/ethnicity data gathered in the 1985 census are not compatible with data from the four subsequent censuses.)

The biggest gain has been for those identifying themselves as Asian: from 6.3% in 1990 to 10.9% in 2005. Hispanics and blacks, both about 12% of the U.S. population, have not fared well. The percentage of blacks in the ACS member workforce has risen from 1.3% in 1990 to 1.9% in 2005. Over the same period, Hispanic representation has moved from 1.4% to 2.6%.

The high representation of Asians in the chemical workforce is entirely due to the foreign-born workers. Although Asians are about 4% of the U.S. population, only 1.4% of native-born chemists are Asian. But Asians comprise 51% of chemists who are naturalized citizens, 43% of those who are permanent residents, and 52% of those on other visas.

Responses to the 2005 census detail the markedly different demographics of bachelor's and Ph.D. chemist respondents. They are two very different populations. For instance, 38% of Ph.D.s are in academia and 53% work for industry. This compares with 7% and 83%, respectively, for bachelor's. By citizenship, 7% of bachelor's and 26% of Ph.D.s are not native-born. By sex, 33% of bachelor's and 20% of Ph.D.s are women. And bachelor's are younger--a mean of 43 years old compared with 48 years old for Ph.D.s.

EMPLOYMENT. According to the 2005 census, industrial chemists--at 3.9%--are the most likely to be unemployed and seeking employment. This share compares with 1.6% of academics and 1.4% of government chemists. Degree level, sex, race, and citizenship status don't seem to be major determining factors in unemployment. Women, however, are far more likely to be working part-time--6.2% compared with 3.4% of men--which probably reflects child-raising responsibilities.

The breakdown of employment by the work specialties identified in the questionnaire puts analytical chemistry at the top, with 17.1% of respondents. Next are medicinal/pharmaceutical chemistry, 10.9%; organic chemistry, 10.8%; chemical education and polymer chemistry, both 7.3%; and environmental chemistry, 6.3.

Women make up 41.3% of those in chemical education. They continue to be underrepresented in the classic disciplines, being only 16.2% of organic chemists, 16.9% of physical chemists, and 17.6% of inorganic chemists.

Of all academic chemists in 2005, 23.9% are women. But they remain disproportionately concentrated in the lower ranks. For instance, 33.0% of assistant professors are women, but only 14.4% of full professors are women. At least some of this disparity is related to the relative youth of the women.

Women tend to be employed at academic institutions serving the lower grade levels. Their participation ranges from a low 18.8% of the faculty of Ph.D.-granting departments to 39.0% of high school teachers.

SALARIES. Extensive analysis was possible with the more than 30,000 responses to the 2005 census. It reveals that, up until 19 years beyond the bachelor's degree, the median salaries for women bachelor's industrial chemists at all three degree levels are 96% or more of the men's salaries for all work experience groups.

When these women reach the point of 20 to 34 years past the bachelor's degree, their median salaries remain at 90% or higher than those of men. For master's, the medians are above 90% until the point of 39 years past the bachelor's, and for Ph.D.s, the medians are above 90% until the point of 40 years or more beyond the bachelor's.

A similar analysis of data on academic salaries indicates the same near salary equality for women. For instance, at four-year schools, the median salaries for women who are full, associate, and assistant professors on nine- to 10-month contracts are 95%, 100%, and 103%, respectively, of those of their male colleagues. At Ph.D.-granting schools, the comparable medians are 90%, 106%, and 96%. And for master's-granting schools, they are 94%, 96%, and 100%.

The disparity that remains for women chemists in industry is in the breakdown of the type of jobs they have and their relative concentration in lower paying chemical functions and specialties.

The three highest paid industrial work functions are R&D management, with a median salary of $125,000; general management, at $105,000; and computers, at $95,000. The percentages of women who perform those functions are 13%, 17%, and 14%, respectively.

At the other end of the scale, women carry out 32%, 26%, and 35% of the three lowest paid functions, which are analytical services, $71,000; production and quality control, $75,000; and chemical information, $85,000.

By specialty, women constitute an average of 22% of the three highest paid specialties--medicinal/pharmaceutical chemistry, biotechnology, and materials science--and an average of 33% of the three lowest paid, which are general chemistry, environmental chemistry, and analytical chemistry.

Just over half, 51%, of respondents to ChemCensus 2005 were eligible for a bonus. Of these, 92% received one. The median bonus was $6,200. They went mostly to industrial chemists, 75% of whom were eligible. Only 10% of academics were eligible, as were 37% of government chemists.

TRENDS. ChemCensus 2005 and ChemCensus 2000 straddle what has been a challenging and disturbing period for the U.S. job market, including that for chemists.

ChemCensus 2000 came as the spectacular economic and employment boom that had started in 1993 was about to end. ChemCensus 2005 comes as a new and somewhat uncertain domestic labor situation is evolving, both nationally and for chemists, after some unprecedentedly persistent employment cuts.

Chemical employment consistently lagged behind overall employment during the 1990s upsurge, and 1995 was particularly weak--8.9% of respondents to the census that year indicated that they were other than fully employed. This figure was down to 7.1% by 1998. And in 2001, the year the expansion ended and turned into a nine-month recession, chemists finally enjoyed a strong year: Only 1.5% were unemployed, and a low 5.4% held other than a full-time job.

Since the end of 2000, total employment in manufacturing, still the primary source of jobs for chemists, has fallen by 2.9 million, or a startling 17%. And it is still going down.

Also since 2000, downsizing domestic workforces and outsourcing jobs overseas have been among the primary tactics of the private sector to get the economy growing again. They have succeeded to the extent that the gross domestic product has been growing at a respectable rate since 2001 and profitability is on the rise.

But it remains to be seen if the job market will fully catch up and move into a period of protracted growth, as it has after every earlier recession.

The jury is still out. By some measures, employment nationally is now on the rise at a reasonable rate, if belatedly. By others, such as the decline in the number of ACS members in the workforce, problems may well persist.

In an attempt to probe the job outlook for chemists, ChemCensus 2005 asked respondents, for the first time, if their employers were multinational and if outsourcing of jobs overseas had affected them over the past five years.

A total of 61% indicated that they worked for multinational concerns. And 20% believed that outsourcing jobs overseas had affected them adversely. Only 4% saw a positive effect.


The PDF includes the following tables:

No full-time job gains, but unemployment drops from recent highs

Chemists on the East and West Coasts tend to be paid more

Earnings of chemists as a group are advancing more slowly than usual

ACS chemists are becoming older, better qualified, and somewhat more diversified

Academia has been claiming a large share of chemists

As measured by questionnaires mailed, the number of ACS members in the domestic workforce is on the decline

Chemists who are white or male or work for government tend to be older

Profiles of working ACS members vary widely by degree earned

Industrial chemists are more likely to be unemployed

More than half of chemists with full-time jobs work in manufacturing

Women are still underrepresented in the classic subdisciplines

Women face a male hierarchy in academia

Chemists as individuals post a solid 5.0% increase

Correlation between salary and company size remains strong

Ph.D. chemists reach a median salary of $100,000 by their fifties

Chemists in the top 10th percentile earn more than twice as much as those in the lowest percentile

Near parity is seen for women chemists at all degree levels who are under about 60 years old

Full professors earn top dollar

Mainly an artifact of industry, they can provide a useful income boost

Salaries of women who work in academia are reasonably close to those of men

Salary Edge Over Chemists Remains Substantial


  Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2005

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