Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Economists Do[About this section] [To Top]

Economists study the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services by collecting and analyzing data, researching trends, and evaluating economic issues.

Duties of Economists

Economists typically do the following:

  • Research economic issues
  • Conduct surveys and collect data
  • Analyze data using mathematical models, statistical techniques, and software
  • Present research results in reports, tables, and charts
  • Interpret and forecast market trends
  • Advise businesses, governments, and individuals on economic topics
  • Recommend solutions to economic problems
  • Write articles for academic journals and other media

Economists apply both qualitative and quantitative economic analysis to topics within a variety of fields, such as education, health, development, and the environment. Some economists study the cost of products, healthcare, or energy, while others examine employment levels, business cycles, exchange rates, taxes, inflation, or interest rates.

Economists often study historical trends and use them to make forecasts. They research and analyze data using a variety of software programs. They sometimes present their research to various audiences.

Many economists work in federal, state, and local government. Federal government economists collect and analyze data about the U.S. economy, including employment, prices, productivity, and wages, among other types of data. They also project spending needs and inform policymakers on the economic impact of laws and regulations.

Economists working for corporations help managers and decisionmakers understand how the economy will affect their business. Specifically, economists may analyze issues such as consumer demand and sales to help a company maximize its profits.

Economists also work for international organizations, research firms, and think tanks, where they study and analyze a variety of economic issues. Their analyses and forecasts are frequently published in newspapers and journals.

Many PhD economists become postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment for Economists[About this section] [To Top]

Economists hold about 21,300 jobs. The largest employers of economists are as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 22%
Scientific research and development services 17
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 15
State government, excluding education and hospitals 9
Finance and insurance 7

Economists typically work independently in an office. However, many economists collaborate with other economists and statisticians, sometimes working on teams. Some economists work from home, and others may be required to travel as part of their job or to attend conferences.

Economists spend much of their time using computers to analyze data, review research, or write findings.

In addition to working full time at a business or university, some economists consult part-time.

Economist Work Schedules

Most economists work full time. Some perform work that may require overtime hours. About 1 in 4 economists work more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become an Economist[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

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Entry Level Experienced

Most economists need a master's degree or Ph.D. However, some entry-level jobs—primarily in government—are available for workers with a bachelor's degree.

Education for Economists

A master's degree or Ph.D. is required for most economist jobs. Positions in business, research, or international organizations often require a combination of graduate education and work experience. In addition, courses that introduce students to statistical analysis software are helpful.

Students can pursue an advanced degree in economics with a bachelor's degree in a number of fields, but a strong background in mathematics is essential. A Ph.D. in economics may require several years of study after earning a bachelor's degree, including completion of detailed research in a specialty field.

Candidates with a bachelor's degree may qualify for some entry-level economist positions, including jobs with the federal government. An advanced degree is sometimes required for advancement to higher level positions.

Other Experience for Economists

Aspiring economists can gain valuable experience from internships where the work involves gathering and analyzing data, researching economic issues and trends, and writing reports on their findings. In addition, related experience, such as using statistical analysis software, can be advantageous.

Important Qualities for Economists

Analytical skills. Economists must be able to review data in detail, observe patterns, perform advanced calculations, and draw logical conclusions. For example, labor economists analyze the effects of labor policies on employment.

Critical-thinking skills. Economists must be able to use logic and reasoning to solve complex problems. For instance, they might identify how economic trends may affect an organization.

Speaking skills. Economists must be able to explain their work to others. They often give presentations and explain reports to clients who may not have a background in economics.

Writing skills. Economists must be able to present their findings clearly. Many economists prepare reports for colleagues or clients; others write for publication in journals or for news media.

Economist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for economists is $101,050. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $55,150, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $181,060.

The median annual wages for economists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Finance and insurance $124,660
Federal government, excluding postal service 111,310
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 110,900
Scientific research and development services 102,000
State government, excluding education and hospitals 69,170

Most economists work full time. Some perform work that may require overtime hours. About 1 in 4 economists work more than 40 hours per week.

Job Outlook for Economists[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of economists is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Businesses and organizations across many industries use economic analysis and quantitative methods to analyze and forecast business, sales, and other economic trends. Demand for economists should come from the increasing complexity of the global economy, additional financial regulations, and a more competitive business environment.

Job Prospects for Economists

In general, job opportunities should be good. Job prospects should be best for those with a master's degree or Ph.D., strong analytical skills, and experience using statistical analysis software.

Applicants with a bachelor's degree may face strong competition for jobs. As a result, bachelor's degree holders will likely find jobs in other occupations.

Employment projections data for Economists, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Economists 21,300 22,500 6 1,300

*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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