Economist: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become an economist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, job outlook, and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Economics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Economist?

Economists research and analyze data to find out how goods and resources are used, detect monetary trends and make economic forecasts. As an economist, you'll research economic issues and collect data to make policies to solve economic problems. You'll conduct surveys, prepare reports and give advice on economics. You may work for governments or businesses.

The table below outlines the general requirements for a career as an economist.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree minimum, master's degree required for most higher-level positions
Education Field of StudyEconomics
Key Skills Analytical thinking, communication, math, writing
Job Growth (2014-2024)6%*
Average Salary (20145 $109,230*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Degree Do I Need to Be an Economist?

You might be able to get an entry-level job as an economist with a bachelor's degree, perhaps working for the federal government, but many higher-level or private-sector jobs in this field require a master's or doctoral degree. With an economics undergraduate degree, for example, you might get a job in sales, finance, or research assisting, whereas a master's degree could garner you a more advanced administrative or research position with increased responsibilities. In order to earn an organization's top economist job, you'll likely need a doctoral degree in economics.

Schools across the nation offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The American Economic Association (AEA) provides an alphabetical list of graduate programs for this field, including terminal master's degrees and doctoral degrees (www.aeaweb.org). The AEA provides other resources as well, including information on how to prepare for a graduate degree and tips on navigating the job market.

What Will I Study?

As an economics major, you can typically choose between a variety of economics courses, including econometrics, microeconomics and macroeconomics. You could also take a course in the history of economic thought, along with several specialty economics courses like environmental or health economics. Because economists need excellent quantitative skills, classes in statistics, calculus and computer science are also considered beneficial; however, at the undergraduate level, not all economics programs are especially math-intensive.

At the graduate level, you may select a specialty, which could include labor economics or health economics. Your undergraduate major doesn't necessarily need to be in economics in order to pursue a graduate degree in this field, as long as you meet the school's course requirements.

What Might My Job Duties Be?

As an economist, you study how people use resources to produce services and goods. A primary part of your job involves collecting and analyzing data and doing research, which you then use to establish economics trends and create economic forecasts. This process may allow you to predict changes in business cycles, interest rates, inflation, taxes and other economic issues. Being able to present your data and forecasts to others is also a key part of your job as an economist.

Your job duties may vary based on your specialty area. For example, as an international economist, you would focus your research on global markets and study tariffs or exchange rates. As a microeconomist, you might focus on maximizing profits at the individual level or for specific firms. You could work for the government, monitoring financial decisions made by Congress, or get a job as a secondary or postsecondary economics teacher.

What Might I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job prospects for economists were expected to grow by six percent from 2014 to 2024, which was projected to be as fast as average in comparison to other occupations (www.bls.gov). The private industry was predicted to see the most rapid growth, and you could enjoy the best prospects if you hold a graduate degree. As an economist, you might expect to earn $109,230, which was the mean annual salary for this career as of May 2015, as reported by the BLS. However, economists' salaries vary based on industry, level of employment and experience. Your economics degree might also qualify you for a job in a similar field like insurance, business or finance.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other similar careers that require a bachelor's or master's degree include those of actuaries, financial analysts, and statisticians. Actuaries collect data and develop reports to assess risk, typically for insurance companies. Financial analysts study trends to provide investment advice to companies and individuals. Statisticians collect data through methods such as surveys, and prepare reports to help solve problems in various fields, such as healthcare and business.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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