Economists study the allocation of resources — including money, food, education, and healthcare — across communities, cultures, and countries around the world. They use data to evaluate issues and help leaders in government and business understand trends and prepare for changes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 6% growth in the field through 2026 as demand increases for professionals who understand complex global economic issues.
Make sure to explore your career options early so that you can find the appropriate program for your interests and goals. Research which programs offer specializations, internships, and research opportunities. This guide offers in-depth information on various economics careers, including potential salary and degree requirements.
Skills Gained in an Economics Program
Many individuals pursue economics degrees because they question why the world works the way it does. Their curiosity combines with a methodical, organized mindset to research and analyze data to reach conclusions. Through statistical analysis, research papers, and presentations, economics programs provide students with competencies they need throughout their career, such as analytical and critical-thinking skills. University programs with internship or cooperative learning opportunities allow students to further develop the core economics skills they need to begin a successful economics career.
- Analytical Skills
Economists evaluate data from a variety of sources to identify patterns and draw conclusions about how economic policies impact businesses, personal budgets, and the overall economy. Analytical skills allow economists to investigate questions from multiple angles to spot trends, understand how variables impact those trends, and accurately communicate those insights to others.
- Critical Thinking Skills
Economists must evaluate data sources and choose the most relevant data points to analyze. This process requires sound judgment, logical thinking, and the ability to infer missing information and identify potential biases.
- Speaking Skills
Economists must share their data-informed conclusions with business leaders or policymakers. Strong speaking skills allow economics professionals to present data in an engaging and effective manner. Many economics programs require presentations that hone students' speaking skills for their future career.
- Writing Skills
Economists often translate vast amounts of data into written reports. These reports summarize information, highlight relevant trends, and provide insight for future action. Other types of writing that economists engage in include memos and academic journals. Students in economics programs develop their writing skills through presentations, research projects, and other assignments.
Why Pursue a Career in Economics?
The BLS reports that 22% of economists work in the federal government, but careers are not limited to this industry. Economics majors can also enter research and development, consulting, finance, and insurance. Many economists work in office environments, but many companies offer telecommuting opportunities, allowing economists to work from home.
Economists can specialize in other subjects to expand their career opportunities. For example, combining economics with political science prepares graduates to work as political scientists or lobbyists for nonprofit or corporate entities. Additionally, marketing studies prepare graduates to become market research analysts, while studying core business principles makes economics majors attractive hires in banking and stock trading.
How Much Do Economics Majors Make?
Salaries for economics careers vary by factors like experience and education. Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found that economics students with only a bachelor's degree earn a median salary of $75,000, while those with a graduate degree can expect a median salary of $100,000.
Median Annual Salary for Business Economics Majors by Degree Level
Graduate Degree WagePpremium$25,000 (33%)
Meet an Economics Major
Sacha Nitsetska has an economics degree from City University. Following an internship in a boutique private equity firm, Nitsetska joined JPMorgan in its leveraged finance team, later switching to industrials mergers and acquisitions. After six years in finance, she decided to leave the bank to create Mavenli.com, recently launching a free app that allows anyone, anywhere to find a mentor. Nitsetska currently works with blue-chip clients in the finance, legal, and tech industries to provide high-performance teams in mission critical environments with on-demand mentorship from internal and external experts.
- Why did you decide to pursue a career in economics?
Honestly, I initially chose economics because I did not have a clue about what I wanted to do for a career, and economics seemed to be a good combination of analytical thinking and the potential to use people skills at some point in the future.
- What are the most essential skills you gained in your economics program?
Numerical skills, teamwork, and some presentation-building skills, but most importantly the ability to analyze and synthesize large amounts of data and present it in a structured and coherent way. Project management is another big one that I'm using to this day in everything I do.
- What was the job search like after graduating?
It was not easy at first because I chose to go into mergers and acquisitions and wanted to get into a top-tier bulge bracket investment bank, which is incredibly competitive, and the applications are very long and quite complicated. Thankfully, I managed to find a mentor who helped me get an internship in private equity, which, combined with a relevant degree, allowed me to get into JPMorgan with relative ease.
- What advice would you give undergraduate students who are considering a graduate degree in economics? Is it worth it?
Like all things, you get out of it what you put in. Personally, I think economics is a great study to undertake because it leads to a flexible career path. You can go into banking with as much ease as you could go into teaching or sales or any number of things. Employers really like graduates who have proven numerical, project management, and teamwork skills, and the ability to think strategically and be commercially minded.
If, like me, you end up deciding that you want to build your own company, economics is a great place to start since you already have a decent background in business and a commercial mindset, not to mention a network of people who are probably doing things related to finance and can help act as angel investors, which has been my case.
- What additional advice would you give to those considering a degree in economics?
My advice is based on things I wish I had known earlier on in my course. First, find a mentor, or ideally about three to five mentors — one from each field you are interested in. The time will pass faster than you think, and before you know it you will be in the final exam season and still have no idea where you want to apply for your first position. Start talking to people in interesting careers early, and by the time you are graduating, not only will you have a clear idea of what you want to do, but you will have the contacts who will be able to get you a job with ease (referrals are always the easiest way in). You can use the Mavenli app to find the right mentor for you for free, or you can always contact your alumni resources.
Also, apply for internships and work experience very early on. While you can get an "average" job very quickly, elite organizations often want to see excellent academic qualifications as well as relevant work experience before they will consider inviting you for an interview.
The Educational Path to a Career in Economics
Minimum Degree Requirements
Many careers related to economics require at least a bachelor's degree, but becoming an economist or professor typically requires an advanced degree. Undergraduate degrees usually comprise 120 credit hours, combining core general education courses with courses on economic theories and principles. Many graduates find work in banking or insurance forecasting financial markets and calculating risk for underwriting health or casualty policies.
Organizations looking to fill leadership positions or research-intensive roles often seek individuals with advanced degrees and experience. Additionally, some professional licenses, such as certified public accountant (CPA), require an advanced degree. However, the skills and knowledge honed in a bachelor's program can lead to entry-level opportunities in industries such as finance, business, and accounting.
How Long Does It Take to Earn an Economics Degree?
Full-time students typically take four years to earn their undergraduate degree. Master's degrees usually take 2-3 years. Not every student can devote themselves to full-time study, however. Part-time enrollment may add years to the degree, but it also allows students to balance work and family responsibilities with school. Online asynchronous programs make it easier for students to juggle their responsibilities, as well. Unlike synchronous classes, asynchronous courses allow students to participate in online discussions, watch recorded videos, and complete assignments at their convenience.
Economics programs may also feature accelerated tracks. Accelerated programs allow students to complete courses in a few weeks, rather than on the traditional semester schedule, leading to a faster completion time. Students can also use transfer credit to expedite graduation and save money. Check with your school to see if it offers opportunities to earn credit for education, military, or work experience.
Concentrations Available for Economics Majors
- Behavioral Economics
This field combines data analysis with psychology principles. It delves into the reasons why people or organizations behave in ways that may seem counterintuitive to their best interests, exploring why people make these errors and how they can make better choices.
- Data Analytics
Data analysts evaluate, analyze, and present large sets of data to inform policy and identify trends in various industries. Many data analysts specialize in a specific economic sector, such as agriculture or manufacturing. Individuals with an interest in healthcare may prefer to work in epidemiology to research the spread of disease or forensic accounting to identify evidence for criminal prosecution.
- Environmental Economics
Many people associate economics with money, but the study's most basic element is the allocation of scarce resources. Environmental economics studies how individuals and nations allocate natural resources to inform environmental policy. Environmental economists may review the benefits and costs of the Clean Air Act or how economic incentives drive industries to adopt more energy-efficient technology.
- Financial Economics
Financial economics studies monetary activities. Market uncertainty plays a major role in this discipline as financial economists look at factors surrounding financial risk and reward. The field often requires forecasting future economic conditions, like inflation or interest rates, and economic diversification to account for potential risks in investments.
- Healthcare Policy
This subspecialty evaluates healthcare delivery, payment methods, and processes to help decision-makers improve access to quality care. This field requires expertise in biostatistics, which uses data to determine survival rates for specific diseases, the efficacy of new drugs, and possible causes of diseases.
- International Economics
Trade takes place across international borders. This area of economics studies trade policy, resource allocation, and exchange rates among countries. These economists predict how tariffs may impact certain countries' economies and how changing exchange rates may affect the demand for an imported product.
- Labor Economics
This field evaluates the relationships between workers and employers. It considers how businesses set wages, as well as factors that may discourage a particular demographic from joining the labor force. It also delves into employee satisfaction and engagement, and how issues such as immigration policy impact different economic sectors.
Macroeconomics focuses on "big picture" questions to explain how an economy works as a whole. It looks at the effect of short-term business cycles on the overall economy. Data on topics such as the nation's gross domestic product or unemployment rates aid policymakers in finding solutions.
Microeconomics breaks down the data found in macroeconomics into subgroups. It studies how individual consumers make decisions, and how their decisions impact the individual and the economy. Subgroups may include consumers in a specific geographic area, business owners, or households.
- Public Policy
Many countries establish regulations and policies that impact their economy and allocation of resources. Economists evaluate the impact of those policies on the distribution of resources, such as money, food, and healthcare. Economists specializing in this area may evaluate tax reform, welfare and social support programs, unemployment, health insurance, or government debt.
- Transportation Economics
This specialty combines economics and transportation engineering to explore issues such as motor vehicle crashes, mass transit projects, and product logistics. The field requires an understanding of civil engineering principles and data analytics to develop forecasting for traffic congestion and regulations for safety and economic activity.
What Can You Do With an Economics Degree?
Economics degrees provide graduates with a variety of employment options across multiple sectors. To find the right career, students should consider their interests and the time and money they plan to invest in their education. A bachelor's degree often meets the entry-level requirements for roles in accounting, market research, and actuarial science — all growing fields, according to the BLS. An advanced degree, such as a master's or doctoral degree in economics, prepares students to take on leadership and managerial roles, such as a policy analyst and statistician. Advanced degrees also create employment opportunities in postsecondary education and administration.
Associate Degree in Economics
An associate degree in economics or finance typically requires 60 credit hours and introduces students to the principles of economics. While most economics careers require at least a bachelor's, an associate degree allows students to take related positions, such as accounting clerk or bookkeeper, to gain valuable experience and learn whether an economics career works for them. An associate degree also provides an excellent foundation for a bachelor's degree.
Bookkeepers track financial transactions for an organization, ensuring proper documentation of income and expenses. Bookkeepers work in office environments, using various computer accounting programs. Bookkeepers may work full or part time, depending on business needs.
- Accounting Clerk
Accounting clerks track financial statements for a business or organization, including accounts payable and accounts receivable ledgers. These employees may contact customers regarding past-due accounts or help prepare financial statements with auditors. Most clerks work in office environments with minimal travel requirements.
- Administrative Assistant
A company may assign an administrative assistant to a particular department or individual. Tasks vary by assignment, but they may include customer correspondence, calendar management, and monthly expenditure tracking. Administrative assistants need strong communication skills and proficiency in word processing and spreadsheet software.
- Brokerage Clerk
Working closely with investment brokers, clerks write orders to stock purchases and sales and confirm those transactions take place. They also document daily operations, review orders for accuracy, and manage data entry and filing systems.
- Insurance Sales Agent
Insurance sales agents communicate with clients about insurance products, helping them make complex coverage decisions. Their work primarily takes place in an office setting, but agents may need to travel to meet with clients. Agents must communicate effectively to learn about client needs and identify sales opportunities.
Bachelor's Degree in Economics
The economics and finance courses that students take during a bachelor's program prepare them for most entry-level economics careers, such as market research analyst and actuary. Electives allow students to specialize in areas such as healthcare, environment, or marketing, opening up additional career opportunities.
Accountants process financial data for individuals and companies. They often prepare tax documents and review reports for income forecasts. A bachelor's degree in a financial field gives students a foundational accounting education, but some employers may prefer a CPA credential, which requires an advanced degree.
Actuaries help insurance companies evaluate risk. Using statistical analysis, they review the cost of accidents, disability, sickness, or mortality. The conclusions they draw help insurance and retirement programs make sure they offer adequate funds to cover claims. Actuaries may find work in government agencies or insurance companies.
- Financial Analyst
Financial analysts help companies understand their resources and make decisions about future investments. They identify and evaluate risks and provide information on companies' financial health, short-term outlook, and long-term growth potential. They also track performance against budgets and offer advice for weathering economic downturns.
- Compensation and Benefits Manager
Compensation and benefits managers make sure that companies remain competitive in the labor market through pay and employee benefits that meet industry expectations. They often work in the human resources department, enforcing employment laws, regulations, and company policies. These managers collect data on standard compensation packages and work with employees in groups and individually.
- Market Research Analyst
Market research analysts help companies design marketing messages that resonate with their target market. They often work with marketing strategists. These professionals use a variety of data sources to understand the consumer experience and decision-making process. They also assist with pricing decisions and product distribution. Market research strategists need strong communication and collaboration skills.
Economists work in a variety of industries, including business and government. They use computer software to gather and analyze data and present their findings to decision-makers. They often design surveys and develop other data collection methods for various segments of the economy. They typically work in office settings and need strong writing, communication, and analytical skills.
Master's Degree in Economics
Earning an online master's degree in economics demonstrates advanced knowledge of economic theories and principles. A master's degree also allows students to specialize in a particular area of economics. Graduates can take on leadership and managerial roles as policy analysts, senior economists, and statisticians. A master's degree also serves as a stepping stone to a doctorate in economics.
- Policy Analyst
Policy analysts evaluate how policies and regulations impact a region or nation. They may work for the government or for nongovernment organizations that lobby for policy changes. Some analysts specialize in a particular sector, such as energy. Analysts need an in-depth understanding of political processes and strategies. The work often requires travel and advanced communication and presentation skills.
Statisticians seek out the most reliable data to produce actionable advice for their employers. They combine the latest data collection methods with mathematical formulas and specialized software to compile numerical data and present their findings. They often work in office settings.
- Postsecondary Teacher (Community College)
Master's graduates can teach at community colleges. They may teach general education classes or specialized courses for business and economics majors. Teachers need expertise and professional experience in their field, plus a desire to mentor students and help them determine the right education and career path.
- Data Analyst
Data analysts evaluate large data sets to answer specific questions. They use a variety of data sources, including surveys, to gather information and draw informed conclusions. They typically present their findings through charts, graphs, and other visual representations of data. They may work with a specific company or freelance for multiple companies.
- Senior Economist
Primarily employed by companies in the financial industry, senior economists may make policy recommendations or develop a plan of action for future risk scenarios. They usually work in an office environment.
Doctoral Degree in Economics
Individuals interested in a career in academia or research-intensive industries should consider earning a doctoral degree in economics. The terminal degree in the field, a doctorate prepares students to take on high-level economics roles, like quantitative analyst and department chair. It also prepares students for tenure-track professorial positions.
- Quantitative Analyst
Quantitative analysts work with other mathematicians in stock trading companies. They develop efficient strategies for trading stock and create tools to maintain stock portfolios. They often test new software and trading tools to ensure that they perform as expected. They also perform analysis of risk, loan pricing, and defaults.
- Professor, Postsecondary
Most four-year colleges and universities expect professors to teach and mentor students in their subject while completing academic research to elevate the school and department's reputation. Professors need a doctorate for tenure-track positions.
- Department Chair (College/University)
The economics department chair leads professors and implements curriculum standards. They also manage the department budget and hire and terminate staff. Some department chairs may teach classes and publish research.
Licensure and Certification
Many careers in economics do not require licensure or certification, but earning these credentials provides a competitive edge when entering the field or for career advancement. Licensure and certification typically involves additional coursework and competency examinations, preparing students to apply economic theory and training to practical experiences.
Chartered Financial Analyst
The chartered financial analyst (CFA) certification curriculum incorporates knowledge and skills in 10 subject areas, such as quantitative methods, equity, and fixed income. The comprehensive program also explores derivatives, alternative investments, and portfolio management as students prepare to work as experts in the investment management field. Students must pass an exam to earn certification.
Professional Researcher Certification
Ideal for market research analysts, professional researcher certification (PRC) includes 12 credit hours of coursework that learners must complete before taking a certification exam. PRC offers exam preparation emphasizing market research principles, techniques, technologies, and ethics. Once learners pass the PRC exam, they register with PRC and maintain their credentials with 20 credit hours of continuing education every two years.
To become an actuary, learners must pass a series of exams. The Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA) offer programs that lead to actuary licensure at several professional levels. To become an associate, students study risk management modeling, learning to assess financial concerns as they relate to uncertain future events. Additional training in financial business decisions, advanced mathematical concepts, and actuarial techniques leads to certification as a fellow. The CAS certifies actuaries in property and casualty areas, including medical malpractice and automobile insurance. The SOA program prepares individuals for actuarial positions in insurance, retirement, and investment management.
Where Can You Work with an Economics Degree??
Economics positions and salaries vary by location, education, experience, and industry. You should consider the industry you plan to work in after graduation along with the quality and quantity of jobs in the place you plan to live.
Similar jobs may offer different wages when compared across locations due to varying costs of living and demand. New York City offers top wages for economists since it is a major trading hub for the financial industry and because residents face a high cost of living. The District of Columbia also offers economists higher-than-average salaries. Economists living in more rural areas, however, may make significantly less than their urban counterparts, but they also enjoy a lower cost of living.
Salary potential varies by industry due to varying education and experience requirements. For example, legal services economists earn an average salary of more than $226,000, while monetary authorities earn $129,000. The following table highlights some of the top-paying industries for economists.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How Do You Find a Job as an Economics Major?
To find an economics job, you need a strong resume that includes projects and experience demonstrating your data analysis, critical-thinking, and communication skills. You should also include any professional certifications you hold, such as certified chartered economist or certified business economist designations.
Prospective students should consider the advantages of using multiple avenues in their job search. Check with your school's career services office for job opportunities and see if the alumni office hosts any networking opportunities that may lead to positions. If you had an internship, check with your job site supervisor for any openings in their organization or network. Many professional organizations also offer access to job boards, such as EconJobMarket, the International Economic Development Council, and the American Society of Hispanic Economists.
Professional Resources for Economics Majors
Established in 1885, AEA serves more than 20,000 economics professionals in government, consulting, business, and academic organizations. Members enjoy access to eight journals published by AEA, discounts on professional resources, and continuing education programs. The website also offers information and resources for economics students, educators, and professionals.
Headquartered at Ramapo College, EEA encourages student research and discussion through its annual conference and publication of the Eastern Economic Journal. The association also presents the Eckstein Prize, awarded biennially to the author of the best journal article.
Published by the University of California-Berkeley, the journal offers peer-reviewed research articles authored by undergraduate students from across the country. The student-run journal launched in the spring of 2016 with a collection of undergraduate essays. The most recent edition includes discussion of the economic impact of refugee immigration.
Members of the NABE enjoy access to the association's journal, subject-specific rountables, and continuing education certificate programs. Members can also access an exclusive job board with a salary survey offering insight into market rates for compensation and benefits.
This organization formed in 1920 to promote the publication of economic research. It includes 1,400 professors across North America who conduct research in more than 30 areas of economics, with special projects in retirement, disability, income and wealth, and the science and engineering workforce. In addition to gaining access to the latest research on these topics, students can connect with fellowship opportunities.
EDIRC offers an index of more than 14,000 institutions in 232 countries. Students can search the list by country or field, identifying relevant economics organizations. It also includes links to economics literature, research papers, and rankings.
The network offers subscriptions to electronic journals, providing access to recent research from around the world. The network's research paper series allows schools to distribute the work of their faculty and students, while the weekly announcements ensure that users know about upcoming conferences, calls for papers, and job openings.
The U.S. government publishes thousands of documents and data sources, most available through federal depository libraries. This tool from the U.S. Government Publishing Office provides free, online public access to those collections.
Established by Margaret Olivia Sage in 1907, the foundation strives to inform policy discussions regarding social and living conditions in the United States, including urban housing, labor reform, and social work research. The peer-reviewed journal offers open access to empirical research papers and the foundation provides grant and scholarship opportunities.
CEPR provides a clearinghouse of information about economic policy within Europe and around the globe. The nonprofit organization allows affiliated economists to network and collaborate on research projects and publications, with more than 1,000 top economists undertaking research on current issues in Europe. The site includes numerous discussion papers, e-books, and reports.