Career Options

A Ph.D. degree in mathematics is usually the minimum educational requirement for prospective mathematicians, except in the Federal Government. In the Federal Government, entry-level job candidates usually must have a 4-year degree with a major in mathematics or a 4-year degree with the equivalent of a mathematics major-24 semester hours of mathematics courses. The U.S. Department of Defense is the primary Federal employer, accounting for about three-fourths of the mathematicians employed by the Federal Government. Many of the other mathematicians employed by the Federal Government work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

In private industry, candidates for mathematician jobs typically need a Ph.D., although there may be opportunities for those with a master's degree. The majority of those with a bachelor's or master's degree in mathematics who work in private industry do so not as mathematicians but in related fields such as computer science, where they have titles such as computer programmer, systems analyst, or systems engineer. In the private sector, major employers include scientific research and development services and management, scientific, and technical consulting services. Some mathematicians also work for software publishers, insurance companies, and in aerospace or pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and secondary school teachers, except special education, held about 3.8 million jobs in 2004. Of the teachers in those jobs, about 1.1 million are secondary school teachers. The majority work in local government educational services. About 10 percent work for private schools. Employment of teachers is geographically distributed much the same as the population.

Job opportunities for mathematics teachers over the next 10 years will vary from good to excellent, depending on the locality. Most job openings will result from the need to replace the large number of teachers who are expected to retire over the 2004-14 period. Also, many beginning teachers decide to leave teaching after a year or two especially those employed in poor, urban schools creating additional job openings for teachers. Shortages of qualified mathematics teachers will likely continue, resulting in competition among some localities, with schools luring teachers from other States and districts with bonuses and higher pay.

Through 2014, overall student enrollments in elementary, middle, and secondary schools will be a key factor in the demand for teachers, which expected to rise slower than in the past as children of the baby boom generation leave the school system. This will cause employment to grow as fast as the average for secondary mathematics teachers. Projected enrollments will vary by region. Fast-growing states in the west, particularly California, Idaho, Hawaii, Alaska, Utah, and New Mexico, will experience the largest enrollment increases. Enrollments in the South will increase at a more modest rate than in recent years, while those in the Northeast and Midwest are expected to hold relatively steady or decline. Mathematics teachers who are geographically mobile and who obtain licensure in one or more additional subjects should have a distinct advantage in finding a job.

The job market for mathematics teachers also continues to vary by school location. Job prospects should be better in inner cities and rural areas than in suburban districts. Many inner cities, often characterized by overcrowded, ill-equipped schools and higher-than-average poverty rates, and rural areas, characterized by their remote location and relatively low salaries, have difficulty attracting and retaining enough teachers. Currently, many school districts have difficulty hiring qualified teachers in mathematics, as well as science (especially chemistry and physics), bilingual education, and foreign languages. Increasing enrollments of minorities, coupled with a shortage of minority teachers, should cause efforts to recruit minority teachers to intensify. Also, the number of non-English-speaking students will continue to grow, creating demand for bilingual mathematics teachers.

The number of teachers employed is dependent as well on state and local expenditures for education, and on the enactment of legislation to increase the quality and scope of public education. At the Federal level, there has been a large increase in funding for education, particularly for the hiring of qualified teachers in lower income areas.