Registered Nurses: Characteristics of the Workforce

More licensed registered nurses are in the United States than ever before, according to the survey “The Registered Nurse Population: Initial Findings from the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses,” conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A diverse workforce consisting of 3,063,163 people, they differ in education levels, age, and race.

The educational attainment of the current nursing population is increasing. Fewer registered nurses (20.4 percent) are entering the field with a diploma in nursing, and more are beginning their careers with an associate degree (45.4 percent) or a bachelor’s degree (33.7 percent). More nurses are pursuing even higher forms of education as well, with those with advanced degrees equaling 13.2 percent in 2008. There has also been a growth in the number of nurses with master’s or doctoral degrees in nursing or a related field, with significantly more, 404,163, earning advanced degrees in 2008 from 275,068 in 2000.

The age of registered nurses has been consistently rising for the fast 20 years. Almost 45 percent of registered nurses were 50 years or older, a large increase from 33 percent in 2000. The majority of registered nurses, 84.8 percent, are actively working in their field with 63.2 working full time. Of the nurses working full time, more than 75 percent of them are under the age of 30. As nurses age, they report that they are less likely to be working in nursing positions. In fact, after the age of 50, the shares of registered nurses tend to drop for each age group, from 87.5 percent of nurses in the 50 to 54 age range to 85.1 percent of those in the 55 to 59 range.

The percentage of white, non-Hispanic RNs has decreased from 87.5 percent in 2004 to 83.2 percent in 2008, which means the diversity of the workforce is gradually increasing. The next largest group at 5.8 percent consists of Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders. Next, 5.4 percent RNs are African American, and 3.6 percent are Hispanic or Latino. The nursing population is changing as more diverse nursing graduates are entering the field. Hispanics are the quickest growing group, rising from 4.8 percent of graduates between 1996 to 2000 to 7.1 since 2005. Of those groups that have also graduated since 2005, 4.8 percent are Asian and 7.4 percent African American.