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Economist Career Guide

What is an economist?

An economist is a professional who studies the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services. They gather and analyze data, research trends, and evaluate economic issues. Economists apply both qualitative and quantitative economic analysis to topics within a variety of fields, such as education, health, development, and the environment. They use their economic knowledge to advise businesses, governments, and individuals on economic policies and issues.

By identifying patterns in data and drawing useful insights, these professionals help formulate policies and make informed decisions about resource allocation. Their expertise contributes significantly to enhancing efficiency and economic growth, maintaining financial stability, and improving living standards.

Duties and responsibilities

An economist is responsible for conducting surveys, collecting data, and researching economic issues. They interpret and forecast market trends, examining how the economy is likely to evolve under various scenarios. They also advise businesses, government agencies, and individuals on the potential impacts of new policies, including fiscal measures, trade agreements, and regulatory proposals.

Additionally, these professionals often prepare reports for stakeholders that are accessible and understandable to those without an economics background. They may also review, analyze, and interpret economic data and use mathematical models and statistics to devise theories about economic relationships.

Work environment

Economists typically work in an office environment. They may work for federal, state, or local governments, international organizations, consulting services, research firms, or educational institutions. Their job is often collaborative, requiring them to work in teams alongside statisticians, accountants, and policy analysts. Digital technology has also made it easier for them to work remotely, providing more flexibility in their work setup.

Their work often involves dealing with complex problems and challenging scenarios that require strong analytical and problem-solving abilities. While the work can be intellectually engaging and rewarding, it may also be stressful due to strict deadlines and pressure to provide accurate forecasts and advice.

Typical work hours

Economists typically work full-time, mainly during regular business hours from Monday to Friday. However, they may occasionally need to work overtime to meet project deadlines, conduct research, or formulate reports.

For those who teach in universities or other academic institutions, their schedule can be more variable, incorporating teaching, research, and administrative duties. Travel might also be part of their job, particularly for those working in consulting roles or for international organizations.

How to become an economist

This career guide section outlines how to become an economist. The process primarily involves acquiring the requisite academic credentials, gaining practical experience, honing analytical skills, and obtaining optional certifications.

Step 1: Complete a high school education

Aspiring economists need a strong foundation in mathematics, social studies, data analysis, and English. It helps to hone problem-solving, communication, and critical-thinking skills at this stage. A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum threshold to pursue further education in economics.

Step 2: Earn a bachelor’s degree

Attain a four-year bachelor’s degree in economics or a related field such as sociology, political science, finance, or business. Coursework should include microeconomics, macroeconomics, econometrics, and statistics. It is beneficial to gain knowledge of software programs for data analysis, such as Excel, Stata, or R.

Step 3: Gain an internship

Actual work experience is fundamental in this field. As such, consider internships while still in school to gain insights into the practical workings of economics. This experience often offers opportunities for on-the-job training and networking, which can be valuable when seeking permanent positions in the future.

Step 4: Pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D.

For more advanced roles in economics, such as economic consulting or research positions, a master’s degree or Ph.D. is usually necessary. These graduate programs dive deeper into the theories of economics and offer education in areas such as advanced econometrics, mathematical economics, and specific fields of study like environmental, labor, or industrial economics.

Step 5: Obtain relevant work experience

After schooling, practical work experience is vital for career growth. Starting positions may include roles as economic analysts or research assistants. This will provide opportunities to apply theoretical knowledge practically, hone your analytical skills, and start specializing in a particular branch of economics.

Step 6: Consider certification

While not required, certification can enhance your career prospects. The National Association for Business Economics (NABE) offers a Certified Business Economist (CBE) credential. To be eligible, one must pass four exams, have a bachelor’s degree, have at least two years of work experience in applied business economics or a related field, and complete a continuing education program.

How much do economists make?

Economist salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. In this field, salaries can be particularly influenced by the individual’s level of education, the specialization within economics, and how well-established the institution or company employing them is in its respective industry.

Highest paying industries

  • Securities and Commodity Contracts – $141,260
  • Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services – $135,590
  • Federal Govt Executive Branch – $119,580
  • Scientific Research and Development Services – $118,770
  • Credit Intermediation – $116,900

Highest paying states

  • New York – $138,230
  • Virginia / DC – $134,560
  • California – $129,620
  • Massachusetts – $127,550
  • Ohio – $120,870

Browse economist salary data by market

Types of economists

This career guide section explores the various career types and areas of specialization for economists. Below, we highlight the unique attributes and responsibilities of each job title.


Professionals who focus on the economy as a whole rather than individual markets are generally referred to as macroeconomists. They observe macroeconomic indicators such as inflation, unemployment, and economic growth and interpret this information to foresee economic trends and advise on national economic policies.


Microeconomists, on the other hand, study specific markets within the economy. They conduct research, analyze data, and make predictions about certain aspects of the economy, such as consumer behavior, the distribution of resources, and the supply and demand dynamics of specific industries.

Financial economist

For those drawn to the financial realm, the role of a financial economist might be a good choice. These individuals study financial markets and devise models for investments, risk management, and financial decision-making. They play an instrumental role in advising corporations, financial institutions, and government bodies.


Occupying a niche intersection between economics and mathematics, econometricians apply statistical methods to economic data. They develop and use mathematical models to test economic theories, quantify economic phenomena, and forecast market trends.

Behavioral economist

Behavioral economists explore the psychological, cognitive, emotional, cultural, and social factors that drive economic decisions. This field steps beyond conventional economic theories, providing fascinating insights into how real-world circumstances and irrational human behaviors can contradict the traditional economic framework of rational choice.

Environmental economist

Environmental economists hold a crucial role in today’s climate-conscious era. They analyze the economic impacts of environmental policies and initiatives. By applying principles of economics to issues related to air and water pollution, natural resource usage, and climate change, these professionals seek to formulate economically feasible and socially acceptable solutions.

Top skills for economists

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as an economist. It takes more than a love for data and numbers to excel in this profession—you’ll also need to be a strong critical thinker, an analytical problem solver, and a clear communicator.

Analytical skills

To navigate the world of economics, you need to possess exceptional analytical skills. You should be able to scrutinize data, extract relevant trends, and use this information to predict future patterns. It is these insights that contribute to economic planning and policy formation.

Mathematical abilities

Mathematics figures significantly in the daily tasks of an economist. Skills in calculus, statistics, and other advanced mathematical disciplines are essential. You would often employ these mathematical techniques when studying economic phenomena and conducting research.

Communication skills

The ability to decipher complex data and effectively communicate your findings to diverse audiences is key. You’ll need to construct clear reports and present your analyses in simple terms for stakeholders, policymakers, and the public to understand.

Critical thinking

Modern economic theory and practice require a high level of critical thinking. You must be able to evaluate various economic scenarios, consider alternative solutions, and propose optimal strategies to address economic issues or challenges.

Attention to detail

Given the delicate nature of economic data and the potential impact of its interpretation, meticulous attention to detail is crucial. It is important to ensure accuracy when processing information, as minor errors can have significant implications on the overall findings.

Economist career path options

As an economist, there are many pathways to progress your career. One frequent route for those wanting to ascend the ranks may allow for promotion to a senior economist, where one would diversify their responsibilities and potentially manage a team of junior professionals. Aside from a step up within a corporate environment, they can also find opportunities to increase their reach and influence by becoming a policy advisor within a governmental department or organization. In such roles, economists play a significant part in shaping economic regulation and public policy.

Those interested in academia could consider pursuing a path toward becoming a professor or research scholar. These roles provide the opportunity to contribute to economics through research, teaching, and scholarly publications. Further, engaging with students can offer a degree of satisfaction from nurturing the next generation of economists.

Alternatively, many professionals may choose to transition into consultancy work. Here, they could use their analytical skills and expertise in economic principles to direct companies on economic strategy, financial forecasting, and market trends. Consultancy work often provides greater flexibility and the ability to work across multiple industries. Lastly, with experience and a reputable personal brand in the industry, some may even consider opening their private consultancies or think tanks.

This profession often experiences waves of innovation and change. The most recent shift has been defined by the increasing usage of big data and analytics. As economies become digitized, the scale of data generation has risen unprecedentedly. Economists are now expected not only to interpret but also manage and analyze these large datasets to derive insightful conclusions about market trends, economic patterns, and policy implications.

Another substantial change in the industry is the increased focus on climate change and sustainability. Economists are now leveraging their skills to understand the economic implications of environmental policies and climate change. They are at the forefront of developing economic models that balance growth with sustainability and assist in policy-making that supports a green economy.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of economists is projected to grow 6 percent through 2032, faster than the average for all occupations. The complexity of the global economy and the increased use of statistical analysis will result in a strong demand for these professionals.

Economist career tips

Understand the industry

Your success partly depends on how well you understand the industry and the economy in the scope you work in. Ensure that you follow economic trends and policy changes that can impact your work. Stay updated with public policies, market trends, and economic issues. A strong understanding of market principles and data analyses can provide you with a competitive edge and help advance your career.

Master technical skills

Work on mastering your technical skills, especially statistics and mathematics, as these are the foundations of economic analysis. Excel in areas such as econometrics and statistical analysis. Familiarize yourself with tools and software available for data analysis, as these can help streamline your work and allow you to provide accurate data interpretation.

Get certified

Boost your credibility and validate your expertise by getting certified. Not all economist roles require certification, but it can make you more desirable in competitive job markets. A popular choice is the Certified Business Economist (CBE) offered by the National Association for Business Economics, providing recognition that you have met a standard of proficiency in economics and analytics.

Build a professional network

Establishing strong relationships with other economists can be beneficial for career growth. They can provide different perspectives, aid in learning about job opportunities, and even offer guidance based on their experience. Here are some professional associations and networks to help you build a professional network:

  • American Economic Association
  • National Association for Business Economics
  • International Economic Association
  • American Association of Agricultural Economists

Continuous learning

The field of economics is constantly changing with new theories, strategies, and corresponding implications. Keeping up with these advancements will enrich your knowledge and make you more competitive in your role. Here are a few ways to ensure continuous learning:

  • Reading economics-specific books and journals
  • Taking online courses in specialized areas like data analysis and econometrics
  • Attending economics conferences or industry webinars
  • Educating yourself on the latest software and tools for data analysis

Where the economist jobs are

Top employers

  • Federal Reserve Bank
  • J.P. Morgan Chase
  • Wells Fargo
  • The World Bank
  • Bloomberg

Top states

  • New York
  • California
  • Illinois
  • Texas
  • Massachusetts

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • Simply Hired


What education do I need to become an economist?

Typically, entry-level economist positions require a bachelor’s degree in economics or a related field. A master’s degree or Ph.D. in economics boosts career prospects, particularly for research and academic positions.

What skills and personal characteristics enhance an economist’s job performance?

An economist should be a strong analytical thinker, capable of both understanding complex economic theories and discerning patterns in large datasets. Excellent written and verbal communication skills are vitally important in conveying economic data and concepts to various audiences. An interest in current affairs, business, and finance also enhances job performance.

What types of companies and organizations hire economists?

Economists can work in a broad spectrum of organizations, including government agencies, non-profit organizations, universities, consulting firms, international development organizations, and private industry. They often find employment in sectors such as banking, insurance, healthcare, and environment.

What does an economist’s daily work involve?

An economist’s daily tasks might include gathering data, analyzing economic issues, interpreting and forecasting market trends, designing policies, advising businesses or governmental bodies, and preparing reports. The exact nature of tasks may vary depending on the employer and type of economist (macroeconomist, microeconomist, etc..).

Are there different types of economists? If so, what are they?

Economists often specialize in a particular area of economics. Some common specializations include macroeconomics, microeconomics, financial economics, labor economics, industrial economics, and health economics. Environmental economists, international economists, and econometricians are also different types of economists.

What impact can an economist have on society?

Economists play a key role in society by helping stakeholders understand and interpret economic trends, guiding policy and decision-making. Their work can shape responses to economic challenges, the formation of public policies and business strategies, and the allocation of resources.

What technologies or software should an economist be familiar with?

Most economists use statistical analysis software, databases, and a range of financial analysis tools. Familiarity with programs like Microsoft Excel, Python, R, SAS, STATA, and EViews can be beneficial. Comfort with general-purpose software and the ability to use or quickly learn industry-specific tools is quite valuable.

What kind of potential career progression can an economist expect?

Economists often start their careers in entry-level analyst roles. As they gain experience and additional education, they may advance to senior economist roles or specialist positions. Eventually, they may lead a team or transition into strategic roles such as chief economist or policy advisor.

Can economists work in international settings?

Economists can indeed work on international scales. They might find opportunities in international banks, global consulting firms, and international organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, or United Nations. Economists focusing on international economics study the global economy, trade relations, and financial markets, often advising on cross-border economic activities.