What Does an Economist Do? (With Steps to Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 30, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're interested in the economy, becoming an economist might be a good career choice for you. There are many types of economists and various industries you can choose for employment. Understanding more about economists and what they do can help you make an informed decision. In this article, we answer the question "What does an economist do?", explore their common duties and responsibilities, discuss the different types of economists and where they work, and explain the requirements and skills economists need.

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What does an economist do?

If you're interested in a finance career, you may wonder "What does an economist do?" An economist is a professional who analyzes the relationship between society and how it uses its resources. Societies that an economist may study range from local communities to nations. They focus on determining the correlation between a community or nation's resources and the products created from those resources to predict future trends for government and business reasons. Economists also help determine the reasoning behind the decisions that people make to allow companies to create more informed marketing strategies.

Economists provide expert opinions that are used in a variety of settings, including in tax laws, organizational strategies, interest rates, policies, and international trade agreements. The government and organizations use the theories offered by economists to plan for the future based on the economist's predictions of the direction of the economy.

Duties and responsibilities

Economists have several responsibilities, and the exact duties of this type of professional can depend on where they work. The most common responsibilities associated with being an economist include:

  • performing surveys and collecting data from the surveys

  • researching economic issues

  • creating and using various procedures and methods to obtain necessary data

  • using mathematical models and methods to analyze various types of economic data

  • creating reports and documents related to economic findings

  • presenting results using tables, reports, and charts

  • forecasting marketing trends for use by an organization

  • advising various entities, including governments and organizations, on economic issues

  • providing solutions to various economic problems

  • analyzing the benefits and costs of producing and distributing services and goods

  • monitoring economic trends to stay up-to-date on economic inclinations

  • developing theories related to the cause of business inflation and business cycles

  • creating policies or offering recommendations related to policy creation and enforcement as it relates to economics

  • publishing economic findings in academic journals or newsletters

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Economist specialties

Here are some of the most common specialties for economists:

Macroeconomists

Macroeconomists study the economy as a whole rather than focusing on a specific area. They research and analyze trends that impact an entire community, society, or nation. For example, a macroeconomic may research and analyze a country's GDP.

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Microeconomists

Microeconomists limit their focus to a smaller field of study. Instead of studying an entire economy, microeconomists look at individuals or organizations. They focus on analyzing the supply and demand decisions these groups are making.

Econometricians

Econometricians, also known as quantitative economists, use statistics and mathematics to analyze and test economic relationships. For example, econometricians may use calculus, game theory, or regression to analyze economic trends. Econometricians typically work at universities or financial firms.

Financial economists

Financial economists typically work for one company to assess and manage their economics. They do so by overseeing research, creating financial reports, and offering advice. Companies can use this advice to increase and improve their production and distribution.

International economists

International economists are interested in historical trends to assess the issues associated with international services and goods trades and international investment. They analyze patterns in transactions between individuals and companies in different countries. They may work for think tanks or international organizations.

Industrial organization economists

Industrial organization economists focus on large-scale business activity. They research current trends and make suggestions about how businesses can improve their policies and procedures. For example, an industrial organization economist may work with a theme park to increase tourism to that park based on previous tourist trends.

Labour economists

A labour economist studies the demand for labour and the supply of employees available to an employer. They may research wages, employment levels and employment trends, and assess the effectiveness of labour laws and policies. For example, they may offer advice to a company about when the best time to hire new employees is.

Public sector economists

Public sector economists are those who work for the government. They evaluate government budgets, assess existing policies, and collect data to analyze. Public sector economists can work for the federal, provincial, territorial, or municipal government.

Academic economists

An academic economist spends much of their time teaching economics in an academic institution, such as a college or university. They may also perform economic-related research in addition to teaching. Being an academic economist typically requires a PhD.

Public finance economists

Public finance economists study the government's role in the economy. They analyze current policies and their impact on the economy. For example, they may study how different tax rates in each province and territory are affecting the economy.

Where do economists work?

Most economists work in an office setting, such as in a government agency or within a corporation. They may work independently or as part of a research team. Many economists work under strict deadlines and schedules and may work overtime when big projects are due.

Most of these professionals work regular business hours, such as 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., while others may work a more flexible schedule of their choosing. Travelling is sometimes necessary to perform research, collect data, make presentations at various corporations or other entities, and attend conferences.

Requirements to become an economist

If you're considering becoming an economist, here are the requirements to do so:

A bachelor's degree

To become an economist, gaining relevant experience can help you progress in your career. Earning a finance-related bachelor's degree can prepare you with essential knowledge and financial strategies to succeed in the role. While working towards your bachelor's degree, focus on courses about mathematics, macroeconomics, microeconomics, econometrics, statistics, and computer science. Once you have a bachelor's degree, which you can typically get in four years, you can pursue a relevant entry-level role. Consider positions such as research assistant or administrative roles to help you gain experience and develop your skills.

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A master's degree

While working in an entry-level position, you may want to consider pursuing a master's degree as well. Most companies prefer economist candidates with a master's degree as it shows employers you have the necessary knowledge to be successful. You can specialize in a specific type of economics when pursuing your master's degree, so consider which field you're most interested in. For example, many schools offer international economics, labour economics, mathematical economics, and advanced economic theory. You can typically get a master's degree in one to two years.

A PhD

Some companies may even prefer you have a PhD in economics, especially for high-ranking roles, such as government positions. Getting a PhD is a big commitment as it can take five to six years to complete the program. It's important to take this into consideration when deciding what type of economist you want to be if any. Many schools offer part-time PhD programs so you can continue working and obtaining experience.

Research experience

As an economist, you spend a lot of time researching new information. Having research experience can show potential employers you can do so successfully. Your degree shows that you can perform research effectively, but consider pursuing additional experience. For example, completing a relevant internship or getting an entry-level job that focuses on research.

Skills needed to be an economist

Having the following skills can help you be a successful economist:

  • Analytical skills: Economists use their analytical skills to find patterns in their data and come to logical conclusions.

  • Writing skills: Economists regularly prepare and present data to others, and writing skills help them do so in a clear and concise way that is easy to understand.

  • Communication skills: These professionals use communication skills to explain their findings to others in a way that is easily interpreted and shared.

  • Mathematic skills: Economists regularly use various types of mathematics to make correlations within their field and so familiarity with the principles of calculus, statistics, and other advanced math topics may be necessary.

  • Critical-thinking skills: Economists are responsible for using reasoning and logic to find solutions to complex problems.

  • Detail orientation: An economist uses this skill to identify minor details in data and create data analysis that is precise and accurate.

  • Social science skills: Knowledge of social science subjects, including history and sociology and staying up-to-date in their field is necessary.

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