As one of the top degrees for the highest-paying business careers, a master’s in economics can certainly open doors for you. The question for prospective students is what kind of opportunities will be available to you when you earn this degree. A background in economics is versatile, allowing you to get started in just about any position that involves data analysis and decision-making, particularly in the context of financial decisions. Workers with a bachelor’s degree in economics are usually limited to analyst roles, at least at the start of their careers. However, graduates of a master’s degree program in economics are more likely to find employment in government jobs in economics, think tanks that study research and policy and management positions in banks and other businesses.
The Importance of a Master’s Degree for Economists
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Not every student of economics, particularly at the undergraduate level, will go on to become an economist. Many workers with a background in economics go into other fields, often related to business. However, there are definite advantages to joining this modestly sized occupation, like a six-figure median annual salary.
If you want to be an economist, you generally will need a master’s degree, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. At least 95 percent of the occupation has some level of graduate education, with 30 percent of the field reporting a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education, 61 percent holding a doctorate and 4 percent earning a post-master’s certificate, O*NET reported. Without a master’s degree, your career options will primarily include entry-level government economist roles and analysis roles in businesses.
As a social science, economics is a field that prizes graduate-level education. If you want to work in senior-level research roles or in academia, you may want to go beyond the master’s degree and pursue your Ph.D.
Government Jobs in Economics
The government is a huge employer of economists. The federal government is the top employer in the United States for this occupation, accounting for 22 percent of all jobs in the field, and state governments make up another 9 percent of economist jobs. Since candidates with only a bachelor’s are generally limited to entry-level roles in this field, a master’s in economics degree is necessary to open up to a candidate the full range of government economist roles available. Even if a job does not require master’s degree, having one is likely to boost your earning potential, since a master’s degree qualifies you for the GS-9 pay grade on the federal government’s general schedule pay scale.
You might find work as an economist at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), where you would serve in a research and analysis capacity and use tax information and other data to make economic projections. Economists at the Department of Energy also do research and analysis work, but they focus on analyzing projects in the energy sector. Economist jobs exist all across numerous branches and agencies of the federal government. To work as an economist at the Federal Reserve, which employs more than 400 economists, you are likely to need a Ph.D.
The federal government is the highest paying of the top employing industries for economists, with a median salary of $119,590, the BLS reported. State governments pay the least, with a $70,280 median wage.
Jobs in Think Tanks
Think tanks, sometimes called policy institutes and research institutes, are among the employers of economists that fit into the industry of scientific research and development services. Nearly one in five economists work in this industry.
Among the more than 7,500 think tanks all over the world, there are those with liberal or conservative leanings and those that primarily emphasize science over politics. If you work in a think tank, you will perform scholarly research and analysis on real-world issues that can be used to craft public policy, programs and legislation. Advocacy is often, but not always, a part of the think tank’s work, but what the organization advocates for should be based on evidence gleaned from research conducted in accordance with scientific principles and practices. Think tanks may have different areas of focus, such as social policy, health policy, technology and general economics.
For economists working in the scientific research and development services industry, the median salary is $109,670.
Management Roles in Financial Institutions
You don’t have to have an interest in policy or research to secure a job with a master’s degree in economics. Your ability to analyze data, understand decision-making and forecast economic trends would make you a valuable asset in the business world. The 6 percent of economists who work in the finance and insurance industry enjoy a median wage of $118,290, and another 13 percent work in consulting services – management, scientific and technical – and see a $110,630 median salary.
In roles in banks, financial institutions and other businesses, there’s a considerable difference between your opportunities with a bachelor’s degree and those with a master’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is most likely to qualify you to work in an entry-level analyst job, like credit analyst, financial analyst or market research analyst, according to U.S. News & World Report. A master’s degree can help put you on the fast-track to roles like financial manager or management consultant, but without that advanced degree, you would need much more experience to reach these senior-level roles.
Your economics degree can add value in many different industries, from understanding the analytics involved in Internet marketing to assessing costs in the healthcare industry, according to Forbes.