What recent studies have made increasingly apparent is that the greatest number of high-paying STEM jobs are in the "T" (specifically, computing).
Earlier this year, Glassdoor, a jobs listing website, ranked the median base salary of workers in their first five years of employment by undergraduate major. Computer science topped the list ($70,000), followed by electrical engineering ($68,438). Biochemistry ($46,406) and biotechnology ($48,442) were among the lowest paying majors in the study, which also confirmed that women are generally underrepresented in STEM majors.
"There is a huge divide between the computing technology roles and the traditional sciences," said Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor's chief economist.
At LinkedIn, researchers identified the skills most in demand. The top 10 last year were all computer skills, including expertise in cloud computing, data mining and statistical analysis, and writing smartphone applications.
In a recent analysis, Edward Lazowska, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington, focused on the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment forecasts in STEM categories. In the decade ending in 2024, 73 percent of STEM job growth will be in computer occupations, but only 3 percent will be in the physical sciences and 3 percent in the life sciences.
A working grasp of the principles of science and math should be essential knowledge for all Americans, said Michael S. Teitelbaum, an expert on science education and policy. But he believes that STEM advocates, often executives and lobbyists for technology companies, do a disservice when they raise the alarm that America is facing a worrying shortfall of STEM workers, based on shortages in a relative handful of fast-growing fields like data analytics, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and computer security.
"When it gets generalized to all of STEM, it's misleading," said Mr. Teitelbaum, a senior research associate in the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. "We're misleading a lot of young people."
Unemployment rates for STEM majors may be low, but not all of those with undergraduate degrees end up in their field of study — only 13 percent in life sciences and 17 percent in physical sciences, according to a 2013 National Science Foundation survey. Computer science is the only STEM field where more than half of graduates are employed in their field.
If physicists and biologists want to enjoy the boom times in the digital economy, a few specialist start-ups will train them and find them jobs as data scientists and artificial intelligence programmers.