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 Ph.D. 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.

There are about 100 universities in the US who together produce about 1,000 new PhDs each year. About half of the graduates are US citizens and the other half come from abroad. [John J. Siegfried and Wendy A. Stock, "The Undergraduate Origins of Ph. D. Economists,"Working Paper, May 2006.] Although the number of economics majors has grown significantly over the decades, the number of new PhDs who intend to pursue careers in the US has declined. As a consequence, employment opportunities for PhD economists in academia should be excellent in the decades ahead.

The Commission on Professionals in Science Technology (mentioned above, page 8) reports starting salaries for assistant professors by field. At $78,567, economics is well above the average of $65,205 of all fields in 2006-07. The table below reports average salary offers to newly hired economists at each academic rank by type of institution.

Average Academic Salary Offers for Senior Level Economists by Rank and Type of Institution, 2006-07

Rank of Academic Economist
All PhD Granting Institutions
BA & MA Institutions
Senior Assistant Professor $95,995 $80,167
Associate Professor with Tenure $128,600 $82,333
Full Professor $204,800 $97,500


Source: Nathan E. Bell, Nicole M. Di Fabio, and Lisa M. Frehill, “Salaries of Scientists, Engineers and Technicians: A Summary of Salary Surveys.” The Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST: Washington, DC 2007) selected curricula from page 268.

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).