We project that China will outspend the U.S. in R&D in absolute
dollars by no later than 2024 and China will continue to increase
its spending margin over the U.S.’s for the foreseeable future.
The Science of R&D
The primary basis of global R&D is economics. Countries and
scientific organizations need monetary resources to fund their
expensive R&D investments. And for the past ten years, the
global economies have been on an uninterrupted growth trend
(since the great recession of 2009) and global R&D investments
have thus doubled to more than $2.3 trillion.
The global R&D leaders have remained mostly the same
over the past ten years, although the ranking order by annual
amount of R&D investments has shifted. In 2009, the top five
R&D spending countries were (in order) the United States, Ja-
pan, China, Germany and France. In 2019, they’re the United
States, China, Japan, Germany and India. The amounts in-
vested by these top five countries was $786 billion in 2009 and
$1.51 trillion in 2019.
The secondary basis of global R&D is socio-economic
strategies. These are the policies that individual countries and
organizations deem as necessary goals for their future development and economic well-being. An organization’s level of
R&D investment is measured as a ratio of their gross domestic product (GDP for countries) or ratio of sales (industrial
companies). These vary widely between organizations and
countries. Finland, for example, has a relatively low GDP ($254
billion) compared to Saudi Arabia’s GDP ($1,854 billion). Both,
however, have comparable levels of R&D ($8.9 billion) because
Finland’s traditional R&D/GDP of 3.50% is seven times that of
Saudi Arabia’s 0.50% R&D/GDP.
Industrial companies have similar disparities. The current
South Africa Saudi Arabia
R&D as a percent of GDP
The size of the circles in this chart reflects the relative amount (compared to the U.S. as a baseline) of annual R&D investments by the
indicated country. Regional groupings are indicated by the colors of the balls in the legend. The horizontal axis reflects R&D spending as a
percent share of each country’s GDP (gross domestic product). The vertical axis reflects on the number of researchers (including scientists
and engineers) per million population for the respective countries.
World of R&D 2019