An economist could...
|Determine the ideal inter-bank-lending rate that will keep the economy growing at a healthy pace.||Evaluate if micro-loans (start-up investments for small international businesses) help combat poverty.|
|Investigate regional prison population growth so governments can budget for prisons and reform services.||Help governments plan their budgets by forecasting the future costs of education.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Every country has resources—people, land, raw materials, capital, and machinery—and economists study how those resources are distributed to create the goods that people buy, and the services people need or want. In their studies, economists monitor economic trends and collect data on things like energy costs, inflation, interest rates, exchange rates, business cycles, taxes, and employment levels. Based on their analysis of this data, they develop forecasts of economic activity so that businesses and governments can better plan for the future.|
|Key Requirements||Detail-oriented, analytical, persistent, and should enjoy independent research, as well as have excellent oral and written communication skills|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, English; if available, computer science, statistics, environmental science, business|
|Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)||Average (7% to 13%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
Some entry-level positions for economists are available to those with a bachelor's degree, but higher degrees are required for many positions. Prospective economists need good quantitative skills.
Education and Training
A master's or PhD degree in economics is required for many private sector economist jobs and for advancement to more responsible positions. In the federal government, candidates for entry-level economist positions must have a bachelor's degree with a minimum of 21 semester hours of economics and 3 hours of statistics, accounting, or calculus.
Economics includes numerous specialties at the graduate level, such as econometrics, international economics, and labor economics. Students should select graduate schools that are strong in the specialties that interest them. Some schools help graduate students find internships or part-time employment in government agencies, economic consulting or research firms, or financial institutions before graduation.
Undergraduate economics majors can choose from a variety of courses, ranging from microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics to more philosophical courses, such as the history of economic thought. Because of the importance of quantitative skills to economists, courses in mathematics, statistics, econometrics, sampling theory and survey design, and computer science are extremely helpful.
Whether working in government, industry, research organizations, or consulting firms, economists with a bachelor's degree usually qualify for entry-level positions as a research assistant, for administrative or management trainee positions, or for various sales jobs. A master's degree usually is required to qualify for more responsible research and administrative positions. A PhD is necessary for top economist positions in many organizations. Also, many corporation and government executives have a strong background in economics.
Aspiring economists should gain experience gathering and analyzing data, conducting interviews or surveys, and writing reports on their findings while in college. This experience can prove invaluable later in obtaining a full-time position in the field because much of the economist's work, especially in the beginning, may center on these duties. With experience, economists eventually are assigned their own research projects. Related job experience, such as work as a stock or bond trader, might be advantageous.
Those considering careers as economists should be able to pay attention to details because much time is spent on precise data analysis. Candidates also should have strong computer and quantitative skills and be able to perform complex research. Patience and persistence are necessary qualities, given that economists must spend long hours on independent study and problem solving. Good communication skills also are useful, as economists must be able to present their findings, both orally and in writing, in a clear, concise manner.
Nature of the Work
Economists study how society distributes resources, such as land, labor, raw materials, and machinery, to produce goods and services. They may conduct research, collect and analyze data, monitor economic trends, or develop forecasts. Economists research a wide variety of issues, including energy costs, inflation, interest rates, exchange rates, business cycles, taxes, and employment levels, among others.
Economists develop methods for obtaining the data they need. For example, sampling techniques may be used to conduct a survey and various mathematical modeling techniques may be used to develop forecasts. Preparing reports, including tables and charts, on research results also is an important part of an economist's job. Presenting economic and statistical concepts in a clear and meaningful way is particularly important for economists whose research is intended for managers and others who do not have a background in economics. Some economists also perform economic analysis for the media.
Many economists specialize in a particular area of economics, although general knowledge of basic economic principles is essential.
- Microeconomists study the supply and demand decisions of individuals and firms, such as how profits can be maximized and the quantity of a good or service that consumers will demand at a certain price.
- Industrial economists or organizational economists study the market structure of particular industries in terms of the number of competitors within those industries and examine the market decisions of competitive firms and monopolies. These economists also may be concerned with antitrust policy and its impact on market structure.
- Macroeconomists study historical trends in the whole economy and forecast future trends in areas such as unemployment, inflation, economic growth, productivity, and investment. Doing similar work as macroeconomists are monetary economists or financial economists, who study the money and banking system and the effects of changing interest rates.
- International economists study international financial markets, exchange rates, and the effects of various trade policies, such as tariffs.
- Labor economists or demographic economists study the supply and demand for labor and the determination of wages. These economists also try to explain the reasons for unemployment and the effects of changing demographic trends, such as an aging population and increasing immigration, on labor markets.
- Public finance economists are involved primarily in studying the role of the government in the economy and the effects of tax cuts, budget deficits, and welfare policies.
- Econometricians investigate all areas of economics and apply mathematical techniques, such as calculus, game theory, and regression analysis, to their research. With these techniques, they formulate economic models that help explain economic relationships and that can be used to develop forecasts about business cycles, the effects of a specific rate of inflation on the economy, the effects of tax legislation on unemployment levels, and other economic phenomena.
Many economists apply these areas of economics to health, education, agriculture, urban and regional economics, law, history, energy, the environment, or other issues. Most economists are concerned with practical applications of economic policy. Economists working for corporations are involved primarily in microeconomic issues, such as forecasting consumer demand and sales of the firm's products. Some analyze their competitors' growth and market share and advise their company on how to handle the competition. Others monitor legislation passed by Congress, such as environmental and worker safety regulations, and assess how the new laws will affect the corporation. Corporations with many international branches or subsidiaries might employ economists to monitor the economic situations in countries where they do business or to provide a risk assessment of a country into which the company is considering expanding.
Economists working in economic consulting or research firms sometimes perform the same tasks as economists working for corporations. However, economists in consulting firms also perform much of the macroeconomic analysis and forecasting conducted in the United States. These economists collect data on various economic indicators, maintain databases, analyze historical trends, and develop models to forecast growth, inflation, unemployment, or interest rates. Their analyses and forecasts are frequently published in newspapers and journal articles.
Another large employer of economists is the government. Economists in the federal government administer most of the surveys and collect the majority of the economic data about the United States. For example, economists in the U.S. Department of Commerce collect and analyze data on the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities produced in the United States and overseas, and economists employed by the U.S. Department of Labor collect and analyze data on the domestic economy, including data on prices, wages, employment, productivity, and safety and health.
Economists who work for government agencies also assess economic conditions in the United States or abroad to estimate the effects of specific changes in legislation or public policy. Government economists advise policy makers in areas such as the deregulation of industries, the effects of changes to Social Security, the effects of tax cuts on the budget deficit, and the effectiveness of imposing tariffs on imported goods. An economist working in State or local government might analyze data on the growth of school-age or prison populations and on employment and unemployment rates in order to project future spending needs.
Economists have structured work schedules. They often work alone, writing reports, preparing statistical charts, and using computers, but they also may be an integral part of a research team. Most work under pressure of deadlines and tight schedules, which may require overtime. Their routine may be interrupted by special requests for data and by the need to attend meetings or conferences. Frequent travel may be necessary.
On the Job
- Study economic and statistical data in area of specialization, such as finance, labor, or agriculture.
- Provide advice and consultation on economic relationships to businesses, public and private agencies, and other employers.
- Compile, analyze, and report data to explain economic phenomena and forecast market trends, applying mathematical models and statistical techniques.
- Formulate recommendations, policies, or plans to solve economic problems or to interpret markets.
- Develop economic guidelines and standards and prepare points of view used in forecasting trends and formulating economic policy.
- Testify at regulatory or legislative hearings concerning the estimated effects of changes in legislation or public policy and present recommendations based on cost-benefit analyses.
- Supervise research projects and students' study projects.
- Forecast production and consumption of renewable resources and supply, consumption and depletion of non-renewable resources.
- Teach theories, principles, and methods of economics.
Companies That Hire Economists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Bright Idea for Saving Energy
- Data Models
- Ecological Footprint Analysis
- Estimation and Population Size
- Free Lunch? Can Solar Energy Systems Pay for Themselves with Utility Bill Savings?
- Hands-on Shopping: More Likely to Buy if You Can Give It a Try?
- Money Problems
- Pretty Packaging: Can Attractive Packaging Lead to Healthier Eating?
- Remodeling and Energy Efficiency
- Spare a Watt, Save a Lot
- Spending Habits: Tightwads vs. Spendthrifts
- The Power of Balance
- To Infinity and Beyond: Plan a City of the Future with Sim City.
- What Electric Bills Can Tell You About Energy Use
Do you have a specific question about a career as an Economist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- American Economic Association: www.vanderbilt.edu/AEA/index.htm
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.onetonline.org/
- Solman, P. (2011, December 22 14). Making Sense: Rich Shopper, Poor Shopper. Retrieved January 24, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qd6zfZdVd24
- Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. (2014, June 22). What Makes a Good Economist? Retrieved January 24, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gFPAC1vd50