What is economics?

Understanding the discipline


  • Why are some countries rich and some countries poor? 

  • Why do women earn less than men?

  • How can data help us understand the world?

  • Why do we ignore information that could help us make better decisions?

  • What causes recessions?

Economics can help us answer these questions. Below, we’ve provided links to
short articles that illustrate what economics is and how it connects to our everyday lives.

Economics can be defined in a few different ways. It’s the study of scarcity, the study of how people use resources and respond to incentives, or the study of decision-making. It often involves topics like wealth and finance, but it’s not all about money. Economics is a broad discipline that helps us understand historical trends, interpret today’s headlines, and make predictions about the coming years.

Economics ranges from the very small to the very large. The study of individual decisions is called microeconomics. The study of the economy as a whole is called macroeconomics. A microeconomist might focus on families’ medical debt, whereas a macroeconomist might focus on sovereign debt.


What do economists do?

Economists have all kinds of jobs, such as professors, government advisors, consultants, and private sector employees. Using theoretical models or empirical data, they evaluate programs, study human behavior, and explain social phenomena. And, their contributions inform everything from public policy to household decisions.

Economics intersects many disciplines. Its applications include health, gender, the environment, education, and immigration. You can check out the field’s classification system (called JEL codes) for more topics that economists study.


Why should I care about economics?

Economics affects everyone’s lives. Learning about economic concepts can help you to understand the news, make financial decisions, shape public policy, and see the world in a new way.

If you are a student, you might be wondering about how much economists earn or how to apply to graduate school in economics. We have resources on everything from learning more about economics to preparing for a career in economics.

If you are a journalist, you might want research summaries and complimentary access to our journal publications — both reliable sources of current economic information.

If you are an educator, you might be looking for ways to make economics more exciting in the classroom, get complimentary journal access for high school students, or incorporate real-world examples of economics concepts into lesson plans.

Or, you might just want to learn more; our Research Highlights series (including the AEA Research Highlights Podcast) and Featured Charts are great places to start.

No matter why you are interested in economics, the American Economic Association is here to help. We are dedicated to helping the public discover the field of economics. Browse our resources pages to learn more, and make sure to follow us on Facebook (AEAjournals) and X (formerly Twitter) (@AEAjournals).


Featured videos 

Economists at the 2020 AEA Annual Meeting said there are a number of misperceptions about what they do, but there's one false assumption that they tend to hear all the time.


Much more than finance, banking, business and government, a degree in economics is useful to all individuals and can lead to many interesting career choices. These four diverse individuals offer their insights on how a background in economics can be a tool for solving very human problems.


Research Highlights

Economists can study a wide variety of topics. The following articles highlight some of the ways economists use data to explore everything from college sports to the impact of good teachers.

The case for paying college athletes

The indirect effects of good teaching

The Great Divergence

Are the Olympics ever worth it for the host city?