views updated


Education and Training: Master's or doctoral degree

Salary: Median—$72,780 per year

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Economists study the ways that society uses limited resources, such as land, water, raw materials, and human labor, to satisfy their needs and wants. They are social scientists who have expert knowledge about systems that produce, distribute, and use goods and services. Economists are concerned with how individuals, businesses, and governments at all levels obtain, invest, and spend money. They also study the reasons why people follow certain economic courses. They sometimes analyze the relationship between the supply and demand of goods and services.

Since economics is a very broad field, economists often specialize in more focused areas of interest, such as industrial productivity, taxes, farm policies, or international trade. They may develop hypotheses to explain problems such as unemployment or inflation. They often advise governments or businesses on ways to cope with economic problems. Economists usually study many forms of economic data in their work. Because economic activity is measured numerically, economists must be skilled in using statistics and mathematical analyses as well as economic theory. They often use computerized data in their work.

Approximately one-third of all economists work in private industry or for private research organizations. They provide information about the economy that helps managers make decisions about the marketing and pricing of their company's goods or services. Economists study government policies in such areas as international trade and inform managers of the effect that these policies are likely to have on their businesses. Sometimes economists investigate the advantages and disadvantages of manufacturing a new product or opening new branches of a store, bank, or factory. They prepare forecasts for both the U.S. economy and foreign economies. Economists work for such private organizations as banks, insurance companies, manufacturing companies, and management consulting firms. A few economists have their own consulting businesses.

Another third of all economists are employed by colleges and universities. They teach, do research, and often write books and articles. Sometimes these economists also do consulting for businesses, individuals, or government agencies.

The remaining group of economists is employed by government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. They serve as economic analysts and policy advisers. Government economists work in areas such as transportation, international trade and development, agriculture, and labor.

Education and Training Requirements

You need a master's or doctoral degree to become an economist. You should major in economics as an undergraduate and take courses in related areas, such as history, political science, and law. You will also need some training in mathematics, especially in the related fields of statistics and computer science.

There are many jobs open to applicants who have completed a four-year course leading to a bachelor's degree in economics. For example, they can work as management or sales trainees. Those with a master's degree, which takes an additional one or two years of study, will be qualified for many jobs in government or industry as administrators, researchers, or planners. Teaching or research jobs are available in some colleges and universities, but those hired are expected to continue working toward a doctoral degree.

A doctoral degree in economics is required for many jobs in this field, especially positions in colleges and universities. Many students pursuing a doctoral degree specialize in a particular area, such as economic history or public finance. It normally takes about eight years of schooling beyond the high school level to receive a doctoral degree in economics. Economists usually continue reading, studying, and attending seminars throughout their careers so that they can keep up with changes in their field.

Getting the Job

Your professors or the placement office at your college or university can give you information about getting a job. Openings for economists are often listed in professional journals or in newspaper classifieds. You can also apply directly to colleges and universities, businesses, or government agencies that hire economists. To get a government job, you may need to pass a civil service examination.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Advancement usually depends on the education, experience, and skill of the individual. Those with advanced degrees often move on to jobs with more responsibility in research or administration. In private industry, economists can become managers or executives. They can play an important role in setting the financial policies of businesses or governments. Economists who work in colleges and universities can advance to the rank of full professor. An important form of advancement for an economist is to become a recognized expert in the field. At times they even achieve broad public fame by writing successful books or newspaper and magazine articles. Some economists advance by starting their own financial consulting firms.

The employment outlook for economists is fair through 2014. Employment of economists is expected to grow more slowly than average for all occupations through 2014. Most jobs are likely to result from the need to replace workers who leave the field. Opportunities should be best in private industry for those with doctoral degrees, especially in research, testing, and consulting. Federal, state, and local government agencies will also need economists to deal with problems in such areas as housing, transportation, and training for employment. Those with doctoral degrees are likely to face keen competition for teaching jobs in colleges and universities.

Working Conditions

Economists usually work in offices that are pleasant and comfortable. They sometimes have to do some fieldwork or traveling, especially to attend professional meetings. Although the basic workweek is often forty hours long, economists may put in much longer hours. Their work requires a great deal of concentration and can be very detailed. They are often required to do much specialized reading and studying. Although they often work alone, at times economists meet with students, managers, government officials, and other people. They should be able to express their ideas and to get along well with others. Since they often have to prepare reports and articles, economists should be able to write clearly and well.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary depending on the education and experience of the economist and the type of position. In 2004 the median annual income of economists was $72,780. In 2005 the starting salary for individuals with a bachelor's degree in economics was $24,667, and for those with superior academic records it was $30,567. The starting salary for individuals with a master's degree in economics was $37,390, and for those with a Ph.D. was $45,239.

Where to Go for More Information

American Economic Association
2014 Broadway, Ste. 305
Nashville, TN 37203-2418
(615) 322-2595

National Association of Business Economists
1233 Twentieth St. NW, Ste. 505
Washington, DC 20036-2304
(202) 463-6223

A number of economists supplement their incomes by writing books and articles or by doing consulting work. Economists who work for federal or state governments, colleges and universities, or private corporations receive benefits, which usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

About this article


Updated About content Print Article Share Article