Economists


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

Duties

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.

Economists held about 21,000 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of economists were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 22%
Scientific research and development services 19
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 13
State government, excluding education and hospitals 9
Finance and insurance 6

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.

 

Work Schedules

Most economists work full time. In addition to working full time at a business or university, some economists consult part-time. Some perform work that may require overtime hours.

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

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

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

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.

The median annual wage for economists was $104,340 in May 2018.

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 $58,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $182,560.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for economists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $119,590
Finance and insurance 118,290
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 110,630
Scientific research and development services 109,670
State government, excluding education and hospitals 70,280

Most economists work full time. Some perform work that may require overtime hours.

Economists

Median annual wages, May 2018

Economists

$104,340

Social scientists and related workers

$78,650

Total, all occupations

$38,640

 

Employment of economists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than 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

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, 2018-28
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Economists

19-3011 21,000 22,800 8 1,700 Get data

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of economists.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2018

Actuaries

Actuaries use mathematics, statistics, and financial theory to analyze the financial costs of risk and uncertainty.

Bachelor’s degree $102,880

Budget Analysts

Budget analysts help public and private institutions organize their finances.

Bachelor’s degree $76,220

Financial Analysts

Financial analysts provide guidance to businesses and individuals making investment decisions.

Bachelor’s degree $85,660

Market Research Analysts

Market research analysts study market conditions to examine potential sales of a product or service.

Bachelor’s degree $63,120

Mathematicians and Statisticians

Mathematicians and statisticians analyze data and apply mathematical and statistical techniques to help solve problems.

Master’s degree $88,190

Operations Research Analysts

Operations research analysts use advanced mathematical and analytical methods to help solve complex issues.

Bachelor’s degree $83,390

Political Scientists

Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems.

Master’s degree $117,570

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects beyond the high school level.

See How to Become One $78,470

Survey Researchers

Survey researchers design and conduct surveys and analyze data.

Master’s degree $57,700

Urban and Regional Planners

Urban and regional planners develop land use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities.

Master’s degree $73,050

For more information about economists, visit

American Economic Association

For information about careers in business economics, visit

National Association for Business Economics

For information on federal government education requirements for economist positions, visit

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

O*NET

Economists

Environmental Economists


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Economists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/economists.htm (visited ).


 

Tracey Lamphere

Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

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