An woman points at graphs on a computer monitor

An economist could...


Determine the ideal inter-bank-lending rate that will keep the economy growing at a healthy pace. Two hands exchanging money Evaluate if micro-loans (start-up investments for small international businesses) help combat poverty. A man using a sewing machine outside
Investigate regional prison population growth so governments can budget for prisons and reform services. Barbed wire fencing along the length of a building Help governments plan their budgets by forecasting the future costs of education. A teacher sits at the front of a class of students
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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
Median Salary
Economist
  $101,050
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)
Interview
  • Watch this video where Nobel Laureates in Economic Sciences and young economists answer the question What Makes a Good Economist?.
  • Meet Akia Ramsay, a Principal Analyst at EMC who helps solve challenging but fun problems.
Related Occupations
  • Purchasing managers
  • Accountants
  • Auditors
  • Budget analysts
  • Credit analysts
  • Financial analysts
  • Financial examiners
  • Operations research analysts
  • Farm and home management advisors
Source: O*Net

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.

Other Qualifications

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.

Watch this video to see how economists study and predict the flow of money and resources.

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.

Work Environment

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.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Economists

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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The sustainability of our planet's resources ultimately depends upon our actions as citizens. How much we drive, what we eat, whether we have pets, and whether we recycle are all individual actions that affect the sustainability of the Earth's resources. Learn how ecological footprinting works and figure out how big your footprint is. How big is your family's footprint? Your school? A local business? Can you propose ways to increase or decrease the size of your ecological footprint? Develop… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
In the United States, lighting for homes accounts for about 14% of all residential electricity usage (EIA, 2014). That's billions of dollars worth of electricity per year. The U.S. has passed legislation to phase out older, more inefficient incandescent light bulbs, and they are being replaced with newer, more-efficient bulb types like compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). How much energy (measured in kilowatt-hours [kWh]) and how much money could be saved by… Read more
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How trusting are you? Do you think people are basically honest, or do you think people are usually honest only when they think someone is watching? This project explores how well the honor system works for a bake sale-type charity donation. Find out if your hunch is correct. Read more
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Have you ever bought or tried something new, just because of the way it looked, or the nice box that it came in? On your birthday, which present do you pick to open first? The one that looks big and colorful and exciting or the one that is wrapped in old tissue paper? The way that something is packaged and wrapped often advertises what is inside. But can attractive, exciting packaging convince you to try something that might not be very exciting, but is, perhaps, something that is good for you?… Read more
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This project is a great way to "bring home" the concept of energy use. All you need to get started is a good-sized sample of monthly electric bills from households in your area. Building from this simple beginning, you can ask questions that can take you in many different directions. For example: How much electricity does the "average" person in your area use per month? How much does electricity use vary among different families? Read more
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Do you like to tell adults where to go and how to get there? Well, here's your chance to do it in the name of science! In this science fair project, you will see what happens to your car's fuel efficiency when it takes you downtown to see a movie, up a hill for a great view, or out for a cruise on a flat country road. Read more
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Did you know that the average child sees 20,000 30-second TV commercials in just one year? That's a lot of encouragement to buy new toys, clothes, entertainment, and food. In this behavioral science fair project, you'll find out some other ways (besides commercials) that marketers use to try and get adults to buy products, like having them touch or hold an item. You'll find out if these methods work with kids, too, and if they increase how much people are willing to pay for a product. It's a… Read more
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Math can make you money! If you understand some basic math, you can make good decisions about how to keep, spend, and use your hard earned dollars. Try an experiment comparing the same balance in different types of bank accounts. How much better is a savings account than a checking account? What difference does the interest rate make? Which is better, an account that earns compound or simple interest? Can you compare the short and long term costs of borrowing money compared to saving the cash… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Math is used by many different types of scientists to model phenomenon and evaluate data from an experiment. By building mathematical models scientists can understand how different physical, chemical, and biological processes are affected by different variables. The most important tools are: making a graph to give a visual representation of the relationships between your variables and making an equation to give a way of computing the relationships between your variables. Find a source of data,… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Do you know how much power is used every day in your home? What you might not realize is that making simple changes can save you energy, power, and money. What would you do with extra money? Put it in the bank or get something that you really want? In this science fair project, you will investigate the different uses of electricity in your home and determine if there are simple changes that you can make to save energy and money. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Everyday, people in your city or town walk to school, ride the bus and go to work, and go to the library to research their science fair projects. But what if the library was 20 miles away from your home? Would you go to the library? What if there were no police officers or fire stations in your city, or if they were located across town, away from where most people live? What if there were no movie theaters? What would you do with your friends? Many people really like living in cities in which… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal near Falkirk in central Scotland. It consists of two diametrically opposed caissons which rotate to lift boats between the two canals through a height of 35 meters. The wheel is always perfectly balanced and, despite its enormous mass, rotates through 180° in less than four minutes, using just 1.5 kilowatt-hours (Wikipedia contributors, 2006). Do background research to find… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Do you have a hard time hanging on to your money or do you have a harder time letting it go? This project shows you how to conduct a simple survey to measure how people manage their money. Find out what percentage of your classmates are 'spendthrifts' and what percentage are 'tightwads.' Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
If you are interested in exploring how renewable energy can improve the environment, this project could be for you. You'll take on a real-life engineering challenge: deciding whether the benefits of a renewable energy technology are worth the cost to implement it. Some sample questions are suggested, but you can also come up with your own question that matches your specific renewable energy interest. Is there such thing as a free lunch? Read more
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Has your house (or one of your friend's houses) been remodeled recently? Were any improvements made for energy efficiency (solar systems, better insulation, passive solar heating, better lighting)? Compare your family's energy costs for a similar time period before and after the remodeling (remember that energy usage often varies seasonally). Monthly bills often have a bar graph showing energy usage for the previous 12 months. You may also be able to get information on past energy usage… Read more

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Additional Information

Sources

Free science fair projects.