The economics profession

Becoming a professor, researcher, or educator

The Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD) in economics is necessary for a faculty position in economics at most four-year colleges in the US. A masters degree is the typical credential for faculty at two-year colleges. Although some students complete masters programs before entering PhD programs, many go directly from BA programs into PhD programs. Completion of a PhD requires about six years of full-time study. Holders of the PhD often also choose research careers outside of academics, including roles at the Federal Reserve, international agencies, and government policy and evaluation departments as well as in private banks, investment houses, and other for-profit ventures.

The AEA's Universal Academic Questionnaire Summary Statistics reports that average starting salaries for assistant professors at PhD granting institutions was $140,767 in 2020-2021. The table below reports the average salary of economists at each academic rank by type of institution.

Average Academic Salaries for Tenured or Tenure-Track Economists by Rank and Type of Institution, 2020-2021

Rank of Academic Economist
PhD Granting Institutions
MA Institutions
BA Institutions
Assistant Professor $138,091 $102,001 $92,001
Associate Professor $159,052 $119,196 $102,514
Full Professor $215,296 $146,322 $125,629

 

Source: American Economic Association 2020–2021 Universal Academic Questionnaire Summary Statistics, AEA Papers and Proceedings 2021, 111: 647–649.

Academic economists at PhD granting institutions play leading roles in the development of new ideas in economics and publish their work in journals like those published by the AEA. As teachers, economists play an important role in supporting the undergraduate major in economics and the various graduate programs.

A number of PhD economists hold faculty positions in MBA programs, law and medical schools, public policy programs, and in a number of other fields. Economists on the faculty of leading professional schools often earn premium salaries.

A number of for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises hire research economists as do many government and international agencies. The National Association of Business Economics provides information about business careers for economists. The career sites for government and not-for-profits mentioned above also point to opportunities for researchers.

Current job openings for economists in academia and with some other employers appears in the American Economic Association's network for job seekers called Job Openings in Economics (JOE).