Economists

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 and analyze economic issues
  • Conduct surveys and collect data
  • Analyze data using mathematical models and statistical techniques
  • Prepare reports, tables, and charts and present research results
  • Interpret and forecast market trends
  • Advise businesses, governments, and individuals on economic topics
  • Design policies or make recommendations for solving economic problems
  • Write articles for publication in academic journals and other media sources

Economists apply economic analysis to issues within a variety of fields, such as education, health, development, and the environment. Some economists study the cost of products, healthcare, or energy. 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, including spreadsheets, statistical analysis, and database management programs. They sometimes give a presentation of 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 them 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 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 journal articles.

Some economists work for companies with major international operations and for international organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and United Nations.

Many economists become postsecondary teachers.

The following are examples of types of economists:

Behavioral economists study the effects of psychological and social factors on the economic decisionmaking of an individual. They research how these factors lead to and affect the outcome of an economic decision.

Econometricians develop models and use mathematical analyses to test economic relationships. They use techniques such as calculus, game theory, and regression analysis to explain economic facts or trends in all areas of economics.

Financial economists analyze savings, investments, and risk. They also study financial markets and financial institutions.

Industrial organization economists study how companies within an industry are organized and how they compete. They also examine how antitrust laws, which regulate attempts by companies to restrict competition, affect markets.

International economists study international trade and the impact of tariffs and trade restrictions. They also examine global financial markets and exchange rates.

Labor economists study the supply of workers and the demand for labor by employers.They research employment levels and how wages are set. They also analyze the effects of labor-related policies, such as minimum wage laws, and institutions, such as unions.

Macroeconomists and monetary economists examine the economy as a whole. They may research trends related to unemployment, inflation, and economic growth. They also study fiscal and monetary policies, which examine the effects of money supply and interest rates on the economy.

Microeconomists analyze supply and demand decisions of individuals and firms. For example, they may determine the quantity of products consumers will demand at a particular price.

Public finance economists analyze the role of government in the economy. Specifically, they may analyze the effects of tax cuts, budget deficits, and welfare policies.

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

Economists held about 21,500 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most economists were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 21%
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 18
Scientific research and development services 15
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 15
Finance and insurance 5

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.

Some economists combine a full-time job in universities or businesses with part-time consulting work.

Economist Work Schedules

Most economists work full time. Some work under pressure of deadlines and tight schedules that may require overtime hours. About 1 out of 4 economists worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014.

How to Become an Economist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Economists near you!

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.

Economist Education

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.

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.

Most students who complete a bachelor’s degree in economics find jobs outside the economics profession as research assistants, financial analysts, market research analysts, and similar positions in business, finance, and consulting.

Other Experience

Aspiring economists can gain valuable experience from internships that involve gathering and analyzing data, researching economic issues and trends, and writing reports on their findings. In addition, related experience, such as working in business or finance, can be advantageous.

Important Qualities for Economists

Analytical skills. Economists must be able to review data, observe patterns, and draw logical conclusions. For example, some economists analyze historical employment trends to make future projections on jobs.

Communication skills. Economists must be able to explain their work to others. They may give presentations, explain reports, or advise clients on economic issues. They may collaborate with colleagues and sometimes must explain economic concepts to those without a background in economics.

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.

Detail oriented. Economists must pay attention to details. Precise data analysis is necessary to ensure accuracy in their findings.

Math skills. Economists use the principles of statistics, calculus, and other advanced topics in mathematics in their economic analyses.

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 was $99,180 in May 2015. 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 $52,540, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $176,960.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for economists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Finance and insurance $118,410
Federal government, excluding postal service 110,470
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 105,510
Scientific research and development services 95,710
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 67,930

Most economists work full time. Some work under pressure of deadlines and tight schedules that may require overtime hours. About 1 out of 4 economists worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014.

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

Employment of economists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Businesses and organizations across many industries are increasingly relying on economic analysis and quantitative methods to analyze and forecast business, sales, and other economic trends. Demand for economists should grow as a result of the increasing complexity of the global economy, additional financial regulations, and a more competitive business environment. As a result, demand for economists should be highest in private industry, especially in management, scientific, and professional consulting services.

However, employment in the federal government—the largest employer of economists—is projected to decline over the next ten years due to anticipated reductions in federal spending.

Economists Job Prospects

In general, job opportunities should be good. Candidates with a master’s degree or Ph.D., strong quantitative and analytical skills—particularly with large datasets— and related work experience will have the best prospects.

Applicants with a bachelor’s degree may face very strong competition for jobs. As a result, bachelor’s degreeholders will likely find jobs outside the economist occupation, working instead as research assistants, financial analysts, market analysts, and in similar positions in business, finance, and consulting.

Employment projections data for Economists, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Economists 21,500 22,700 6 1,200


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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