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There are more life sciences researchers in the United States than ever before, numbering roughly 545,000.

These researchers encompass such roles as biochemists, biological scientists, chemists and skilled laboratory support staff. They form the core of the industry’s rapid growth, underpinning new innovation and discoveries.

U.S. life sciences researchers have four main areas of expertise:

  1. Chemistry

  2. Biology

    Biological scientists, biophysicists, bioengineers, etc.
  3. Medical and health care

    Medical scientists, epidemiologists
  4. Digital and analytics

    Data scientists, etc.

Between 2002 and 2022, the number of U.S. life sciences researchers grew 87%, compared with only 14% for all U.S. occupations (Figure 1).

Figure 1: U.S. Life Sciences Research Talent

Source: Lightcast, Q2 2023.

There continues to be an occupational shift from chemistry to biology, reflecting larger industry trends. The number of biology-based researchers increased by 11.1% over the past five years, while the number of chemists fell by 1.2%. Meanwhile, the number of digital and analytics workers, including those not employed in the life sciences industry, more than doubled due to innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Growth Rates of Life Sciences Research Occupations, 2017-2022

Source: Lightcast, Q2 2023.

As the life sciences industry continues to expand, the labor market for life sciences researchers remains historically tight. Unemployment rates for select life sciences researchers are well below the broader economy’s unemployment rate. As a result, labor market weakness in an economic downturn may not impact life sciences researchers as much as more cyclical sectors (Figure 3).

Figure 3: 2022 U.S. Unemployment Rates by Life Sciences Occupation & U.S. Total

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CBRE Research, February 2023.

The number of life sciences research jobs has not fallen in the past 20 years, displaying unusual resilience even for an industry that is particularly stable in economic downturns (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Total U.S. vs. Life Sciences Research Job Growth

Source: Lightcast, Q2 2023.

Some segments of the labor market are softening. However, the pharmaceutical industry is demonstrating more job stability than the technology or health care/products industries. While there are more announced cuts than hirings in each of these three industries, the pharmaceutical industry maintains by far the most closely balanced ratio of hiring to cuts. This may indicate greater stability in the life sciences labor market in 2023 than in other sectors (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Q1 2023 Announced Job Cuts & Hiring by Industry

Source: Challenger & Gray, April 2023.

Announced hiring plans in the pharmaceutical industry have been more resilient than in the technology and health care/products industries, comparing Q1 2023 data to one year ago (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Q1 2023 vs. Q1 2022 Announced Hiring by Industry

Source: Challenger & Gray, April 2023.

The life sciences industry requires a strong pool of new university graduates to meet its growing need for talent. The U.S. had a record-high 171,520 biological and biomedical sciences degrees and certifications conferred in 2021. This represents a 4.8% year-over-year increase that has continued at an accelerated pace each year since 2017 (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Biological & Biomedical Sciences Degrees & Certificates Awarded at U.S. Postsecondary Institutions

Source: U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, CBRE Research, Q2 2023.

Biological and biomedical science degrees and certifications increased by 12.6% since 2018. This greatly exceeds the 4.6% growth in all U.S. degrees and certifications over the same period (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Academic Degrees/Certificates Earned Between 2018 and 2021

Source: U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, CBRE Research, Q2 2023.
Note: Only select disciplines shown with at least 100,000 degrees and certificates issued.

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