What Can I Do with a Degree in Economics?

Learn more about what you can do with a degree in economics. Find information on economics careers, salary, job outlook, and schools. View popular schools that prepare students for careers in economics.


Money, it has been said, makes the world go ’round. It is the job of an economist to be able to track how a society distributes its monetary might, from raw resources (land, labor and capital) through the production of goods and services. Economists work with numbers and statistics that reflect real-world concerns: how businesses operate, how money flows between organizations (governments, corporations and people), how individuals are affected by the decisions made by organizations, and how well or how poor an economy is performing. Economists are seen as lone compilers, pouring over charts and figures, projecting trends and analyzing forecasts, but it should be noted that there is a separate Nobel Prize in Economics, signifying the discipline’s importance to the world.

Economists are frequently concerned with microeconomics or macroeconomics, economies of small or large scale, although the field can be best described as more complex than this simple duality. Essential to any aspiring economist is a strong background in mathematics, computers and the ability to pay close attention to small details, as economics details in very precise numbers. A Bachelor’s Degree in Economics will open up a wide range of career possibilities, but those individuals seeking to become a top professional economist are advised to pursue a Ph.D. in the field.


An undergraduate degree in economics will prepare the student for career success in a wide variety of fields other than just economics. However, individuals seeking a career in the dismal science can focus on several main areas of study. Microeconomists study individual firms and consumers. Macroeconomists, on the other hand, research trends in an entire economy, such as on a national or global scale. Industrial economists, also called organizational economists, will study a particular industry, examining competition and behavior among similar firms. Monetary or fiscal economists explore the international banking system and the effects of interest rates on the larger society. Labor economists research supply and demand issues related to workers and their wages. Public finance economists look at how the government’s role affects economic output. Econometricians stand at the most academic levels of the discipline, applying advanced mathematics and game theory to develop larger economic theories.

Many employed economists work for the federal government, including such agencies as the Department of Labor. Numerous others work in the private sector, in corporations. Many more economists teach at the university level. Certain economists, seen as experts in the field, are known to write columns for the New York Times.

Industry Salary Info

As of 2008, there were 14,600 individuals employed as economists in the United States. The majority of these, 53 percent, worked for various government agencies, including 31 percent of this group employed by the federal government. For those economists working for the US Government, the average median salary was $108,010. Economists working in the private sector in general earned somewhat less, averaging $83,590. This ranged from a low of under $44,000 for the bottom 10 percent to a high of over $140,000 for the top ten percent. Most privately employed economists earned between $59,390 and $113,590.
For those economists seeking a job at a university, the average median salary for an Assistant Profession of Economics was $69,304. Paul Krugman, it has been reported, earns a salary in the mid six figures as a full Professor of Economics at Princeton University in New Jersey, in addition to salary from the New York Times as well as book and television revenue. It should be noted that Mr. Krugman is an exception, rather than the rule.

Job Outlook

The rate of job growth for economists is expected to be slower than average when compared to other industries in the coming decade. The demand for economists will increase, but most graduates will find employment in related fields, such as business, insurance or education. The overwhelming numbers of economists working for the federal government will ensure that there are fewer job openings in that sector. However, greater job opportunities will exist in the private sector, especially as the global economy continues to grow more complex. Individuals holding a Ph.D. will frequently have the best prospects for landing a career as an economist, although tenure-track positions in universities will be difficult to come by. Individuals with only a Bachelor’s Degree should be able to secure work in a range of business and financial industries, as the skills acquired in pursuit of an economic education transfer to the larger corporate world. These workers can also consider acquiring state teaching certification, as the need for high school economics teachers increases.

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