The two main focuses of economics are macroeconomics and microeconomics. Macroeconomics studies factors that affect national economies, such as economic growth, inflation and interest rates, unemployment, and taxes. Microeconomics studies the decision-making processes of households and businesses regarding spending and savings, setting prices, and more.
Economists may specialize in macro- or microeconomics. Specialties within the field include financial economists, international economists, organizational or industrial economists, demographic or labor economists, public finance economists, and econometricians. There are also behavioral economists, who study the psychological and social factors that individuals face when making economic decisions. Economists work for federal government agencies, such as the Federal Reserve, as well as for state and local government agencies; corporations, and research firms and think tanks. Some economists work for international organizations, like the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and the World Bank.
Wherever economists work, their main tasks are usually to research and analyze economic issues, conduct surveys, collect data, and prepare reports and present findings. They interpret data and make predictions about future market trends. They may also make recommendations for and help design public policies to solve economic problems. Depending on the sector in which they work, economists may study topics such as the cost of energy or health care. Some economists examine business cycles and consumer demand and sales to help companies increase their profits. Those who work for the federal government study issues that affect the U.S. economy, such as employment, wages, productivity, and prices. They use this information to forecast spending needs, which helps policymakers understand the economic effect of laws and regulations.
In 2016–2017, of the 2.0 million bachelor’s degrees awarded, economics was among the top majors. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that approximately 159,000 bachelor’s degrees were granted in the social sciences field, which includes economics.
The subjects covered in academic programs for economics and business majors include finance, business management, organizational science, and labor issues. The universities that ranked among the top for strong economics and business programs, according to the U.S. News & World Report 2020 Best Global Universities report, are Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California—Berkeley, Stanford University, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, the London School of Economics and Political Science, New York University, and Northwestern University.
Economics professors share their knowledge of economic principles and practices, financial markets, and financial data reporting, accounting, and banking. Most colleges and universities require that economics professors hold a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in economics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 12,750 postsecondary economics teachers employed in the United States in May 2018. The majority work for colleges, universities, and professional schools; others are employed by junior colleges. Economics professors focus on teaching and advising students. They work with department heads in developing course curricula. They create lesson plans and assignments, moderate course discussions, review and grade papers and tests, and meet with students to discuss their progress. Economics professors who work in larger universities and who are on a tenure track may conduct research and write and publish articles and books.