Why Major in Economics

Why do you want to major in Economics?

Some common answers are: "I like the subject", "I'm good at this", "I expect to be a (fill in an appropriate title) when I graduate". Some others are: "My parents want me to do this", "I want a business degree but I couldn't get into a business school", or "I want to make a lot of money". Obviously these answers are a very personal choice, and it is hoped that students come to economics for all of the right reasons for themselves. It should be important for each student to find a major that can enhance their personal world and through which they can also contribute to society. If a student chooses a career path for which they have neither aptitude nor affinity it will be very difficult to be successful and, more importantly, happy.

Advantages of an Economics Major

Intellectual Elegance

Economics is attractive to some because of its models and elegant theoretical structure. At advanced levels, economics is highly mathematical. Thus it gives students proficient in mathematics an opportunity to put their mathematics to good use working on important human problems.

Policy Relevance

Economics deals with important problems, including economic growth, unemployment, inflation, poverty, taxation, pollution, education, inequality, and government policy.

Careers

An economics major opens a variety of interesting options after graduation. One can go on for further study in economics, finance, business, law, health care administration, public administration, and other fields. Or one can seek, with reasonable prospect of success, jobs in a variety of areas, including finance, banking, and government service. We will discuss job opportunities more extensively later.

Disadvantages of an Economics Major

Economics is Not Finance

Students may be seeking a business degree with its exposure to marketing, quality control, accounting, tax law, business law, and human resource management. While an underpinning for finance and for other managerial studies, economics is broader than management and will not substitute for the detailed study of certain aspects of management. However, economics will provide a sound and firm base for certain future management courses.

Quantitative Skills

Some students may prefer to avoid a quantitative social science that employs considerable mathematics: geometry and algebra at the lower levels, calculus for many 400-level courses. Even when the exposition is not highly mathematical, the reasoning in the discipline normally is very deductive. Some students prefer a more inductive approach. Moreover, some believe that the deductive reasoning is based on assumptions that sometimes are not very realistic. For example, many markets may not be fully competitive, and corporations may often influence consumer preferences.

Narrow Focus

You may prefer a more broadly based discipline. For example, most other social sciences include considerable emphasis on economics. But economics pays much less attention to the findings of sociology, anthropology, history, and other social sciences. In the same vein, economics often takes as given the wants and goals of people. It focuses instead on the narrower issue of how to achieve given goals most efficiently, that is, at lowest cost. In contrast, other disciplines may be more helpful to those who wish to reflect on what goals to choose and how to choose them.

"The Dismal Science"

You may find economics dull. Economics emphasizes the costs as well as the benefits of various actions. Often the costs can be estimated more reliably than the benefits, thus helping to create a possible bias towards the status quo. Usually economics examines the effects of marginal changes, not dramatic revolutionary changes. As indicated above, its arguments can be highly theoretical, based on assumptions that are not always closely grounded in reality.

Last Updated: 8/22/14