Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 20, Issue 1–2, pp 59–79 | Cite as

Exceptional contributions to US science by the foreign-born and foreign-educated

  • Paula E. Stephan
  • Sharon G. Levin


This paper contributes to the debate on high-skilled migration byexamining whether the foreign-born and foreign-educated are disproportionatelyrepresented among individuals making exceptional contributions to science and engineering (S & E) in the U.S. Six indicators of scientific achievement areused: individuals elected to the National Academy of Sciences and/or National Academy of Engineering, authors of citation classics, authors of hot papers, the 250 most-cited authors, authors of highly cited patents, and scientistswho have played a key role in launching biotechnology firms. We do not claim that this list is exhaustive, merely illustrative.

Using a variety of sources, we are able to determine the birth andeducational origin of 89.3% of the study group of over 4,500 scientists and engineers. For each indicator of scientific achievement, we test to see if the observed frequency by birth (or educational) origin is significantly differentfrom the frequency one would expect given the composition of the scientific labor force in the U.S. We find that although there is some variation by discipline, individuals making exceptional contributions to S & E in the U.S. aredisproportionately drawn from the foreign born. Only in the instance of hot papers in the life sciences were we unable to reject the null hypothesis that the proportion is the same as that in the underlying population. The most frequent country of origin in the life sciences is Great Britain followed by Germany. In the physical sciences the reverse is true. We also find that individuals making exceptional contributions are, in many instances, disproportionately foreign educated, both at the undergraduate and at the graduate level.

We conclude that immigrants have been a source of strength and vitalityfor U.S. science and, on balance, the U.S. appears to have benefited from the educational investments made by other countries. We do not investigate, however, whether U.S. scientists and engineers have borne part of thecost of the inflow of foreign talent by being displaced from jobs and/or earning lower wages. Nor do we investigate the cost to the countries of origin.

Skilled people Immigrants Labor force 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paula E. Stephan
    • 1
  • Sharon G. Levin
    • 2
  1. 1.Andrew Young School of Policy StudiesGeorgia State UniversityUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of Missouri-St LouisUSA

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