What is an Economics Degree?

A degree in economics is valued in multiple industries. From a general perspective, though, programs in the field teach students how the global economy works and prepare them to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to real-world issues. Typical coursework includes:

  • Macroeconomics – concerned with large-scale or general economic factors, such as interest rates and national productivity
  • Microeconomics – deals with decisions about the allocation of resources made by individual consumers, individual firms, and households
  • Mathematical Modeling – uses math in worksheets, puzzles, games, and quizzes to model or represent how something in the real world works
  • Statistics – the science of collecting and analyzing numerical data in large quantities, with the goal of describing real-world data or relationships
  • Banking Systems – how banks and other financial institutions make money by lending money
  • Financial Markets – marketplaces where trading of securities, such as stocks and bonds
  • Technologies – in economics, this refers to new ways of doing things; of producing things faster, in better ways, or more cheaply.

Some economics specializations are:

  • Development Economics – focuses on the economic aspects of development in low-income countries
  • Environmental Economics – studies how environmental problems, such as climate change, and government environmental policies affect the environment
  • Health Economics – is concerned with markets and government policies that impact access to health care
  • Industrial Economics – studies firms, industries, markets, prices, and competition
  • International Economics – is focused on international trade and how international differences in resources and consumer preferences impact it
  • Labor Economics – looks at markets and how they affect wages, pension plans, and other worker benefits
  • Public Economics – studies how government finance and policies impact the economy
  • Regional and Urban Economics – studies things like education, housing, public services, crime, and local government finance to come up with economic snapshots

Program Options

Associate Degree in Economics - Two Year Duration
Economics degrees at the associate’s level are quite rare. Individuals who do earn this two-year degree tend to transfer to a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Coursework covers the fundamentals of accounting, finance, and management.

Bachelor’s Degree in Economics - Four Year Duration
Bachelor’s degree programs in economics expose students to various economic theories and principles. After completing core courses like calculus, statistics, microeconomics, and macroeconomics, students study subjects such as public finance and the economics of the labor market. Some jobs that commonly require a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics are financial advisor, account manager, financial analyst, statistician, market research analyst, and credit analyst.

Master’s Degree in Economics - One to Two Year Duration
At the master’s degree level, economics students take advanced courses in microeconomics, macroeconomics, econometrics (the application of math, statistical methods, and computer science to describe economic systems), statistics, and data analysis. They then choose an area of focus (refer to the list of specializations provided in the Summary section, above).

It is with a master’s degree that graduates can seek to actually work as an ‘economist’, monitoring economic trends and developing forecasts on such things as interest rates and energy costs. Other roles that generally require a master’s degree: financial manager, management consultant, and money manager.

Doctoral Degree in Economics - Five to Seven Year Duration
Economists employed by universities, government agencies, research institutes, and economic think tanks almost invariably have a Ph.D. in the discipline. Admissions to Ph.D. programs in economics are very competitive and generally take five to six years to complete.

Degrees Similar to Economics

While the purpose of economics is to explain how the global economy functions, the finance field is concerned with how individuals, businesses, and organizations raise, distribute, and use money. Clearly, the two disciplines are connected.

Business Administration
Without question, economics and business are closely related. Therefore, a business degree program typically has some economics coursework as part of its requirements.

There are, however, significant differences between the two fields of study. Economics asks wide questions about world economies, how governments should respond to financial crises, how stock prices and exchange rates are set, and how to help people living in poverty. Business has a narrower focus: how to operate a business from the perspectives of marketing, accounting, human resources, and operations.

The field of accounting, like economics, helps businesses, industries, and governments make financial decisions and set fiscal policies. But the two differ, as well. Economics studies and interprets financial patterns to understand economies and consult on things like tax, federal spending, and monetary policy. Accounting is focused on analyzing income and expenditure records; on tracking budgets and revenue; and on producing financial records.

Actuarial Science
This degree program provides students with in-depth training in mathematics, statistics, and probability. It teaches the use of models in analyzing and solving financial problems and includes coursework in economics, finance, accounting, and computer science.

Skills You’ll Learn

In addition to learning economic concepts and principles, economics degree students gain several transferrable skills:

  • Research and Statistical Analysis
  • Approaching problems by consistently looking at new research and information
  • Using models, charts, and graphs to present findings
  • Simplifying complex ideas to untrained audiences
  • Communicating ideas in accurate and concise writing
  • Openness to different ideas and approaches
  • Teamwork

What Can You Do with an Economics Degree?

With a solid understanding of national and/or international economies, finance, and business, economics graduates are ready to work in various occupational categories:

Market Research
Market research is about looking at industry trends to determine how potential customers are likely to react to products and services under specific economic conditions. The work involves designing studies and gathering and analyzing data.

Economic Consulting
In fields like business, finance, education, healthcare, and government, economic consultants carry out studies of different economic scenarios and help organizations improve their performance. They may also act as expert witnesses in legal cases concerning economic damages, intellectual property, and related violations.

Compensation and Benefits
The people that evaluate options for company pay and benefits must consistently call upon their understanding of labor market trends and general economics.

While an economics degree is not sufficient to practise law, it is a degree field that is valued in the legal industry because many areas of law – corporate law, tax law, antitrust law, personal injury, medical malpractice – require both microeconomic and macroeconomic analysis.

Business Reporting
Economics, finance, and business focused media outlets seeks out writers and broadcasters who are familiar with the fields and able to report on business leaders, companies, trends, markets, and issues.

Local, state, and federal governments present employment opportunities for economics major graduates with a wide range of agencies that manage agriculture, business, finance, labor, transportation, utilities, and trade.

By combining their economics training with the required teaching credential, economics majors can have a career in education – at the high-school level with a bachelor’s degree and at the college/university level with a master’s or doctorate degree.

Organizations, Associations, and Non-Profits
In this sector, economics graduates find jobs with institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the American Enterprise Institute, chambers of commerce, trade associations, labor unions, and non-profit organizations.


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