What is economics?
Economics is the practical and theoretical science of the production and distribution of wealth. It is based around the system of the production, buying and selling of goods and services.
As a social science it is primarily concerned with the behaviour and relationships of people and societies and economics is applied to the real world to study and analyse the activities and interaction between people, markets and governments.
Although there are various subdivisions of economics, the two main areas of study are microeconomics and macroeconomics.
Microeconomics is the study of the dynamics between individuals and industries, a more concentrated study of the broader discipline of macroeconomics, which is the study of the economic activity of an entire market or country.
Economics is a relatively modern discipline and Adam Smith is widely regarded as the father of modern economics having developed the idea of classical economics (or liberal economics) in the 18th century.
It has grown considerably as a field and now incorporates a number of other subjects, including sociology, geography, law and several others to develop our collective understanding of the economic systems that exist today.
The best universities to study economics
What might you find on an economics degree course?
Most economics degrees last for three or four years and are primarily taught through lectures and seminars. The content of an economics degree course is hugely dependent on whether a student opts for a BSc or a BA course. BSc economics courses use mathematics and statistical theory applied to economic theory and they are designed for students who want to take advantage of a background in mathematics to further their understanding of the world today.
On the other hand, BA economics students will not be required to use as much mathematics, as they use more qualitative methods.
For joint honours degrees, a BSc economics degree is more likely to be combined with a science-based subject such as mathematics, while a BA economics course could be combined with various subjects including languages, politics and psychology.
Often both courses will begin with the same fundamental economics syllabus, before diverging later on in the course as students specialise in a particular branch of economics. Both are also based around empirical research and developing an understanding of economic theory, meaning that analysing issues and dealing with numbers are central to both courses.
What should I study to do an economics degree?
The short answer is maths. Although BA programmes require less mathematical ability, it remains a central discipline in economics courses and the more prestigious economics courses require high mathematics grades.
Economics is a real-world discipline so courses like history and politics may help a prospective economics student develop an understanding of the world, including the systems that govern it and the events that helped to shape it.
Some schools and colleges offer economics and this would be an advisable choice for aspiring economics students, while physics and maths are among the typical school subjects studied by economics students.
It is worth considering which branches of economics are of interest or where you see your career taking you because this may make deciding what subjects to study easier. If working abroad is of interest then perhaps studying a language would be a good choice, or maybe management if that could help your future career prospects.
More subject guides
What can you do with a business and management degree?
What can you do with an accounting degree?
What can you do with a mathematics degree?
What can you do with a physics degree?
What can you do with a law degree?
What can you do with a politics degree?
What do economics graduates go on to do?
The skills developed through studying economics are incredibly versatile and can be employed in a wide range of industries – by the time the course ends an economics graduate will be comfortable with dealing with numbers as well as experience in using innovative techniques to overcome problems.
They will have developed an analytical mind alongside a strong economic awareness of the world, skills which can be transferred to numerous industries. A lot of professionals in banking and accountancy hold economics degrees. For any career related to finance, an economics degree is a good foundation to build on.
Roles in data analysis such as an actuary, or an investment analyst, are typical careers for an economics graduate.
For those who want a job directly related to economics, further study is recommended. Fortunately, there are an array of master’s and PhD opportunities and these courses give students a chance to specialise further and conduct detailed research in areas of interest. An economics graduate will have some unique and highly sought after skills and in most cases, employment prospects are good.
Student experience of studying economics
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Nobel laureates offer their advice to young economists
Famous people who studied economics
A significant proportion of world and business leaders studied economics at university, so economics graduates are in good company. Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard and former CEO of eBay studied economics at Princeton University and Harvard University, while American business magnate Warren Buffett was awarded a master’s degree in economics from Columbia Business School in 1951.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is also an economics graduate, along with other political figures including former US presidents George W Bush and Gerald Ford. Body builder and actor turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger also has an economics degree.
Some less obvious famous faces who have earned economics degrees include singer Lionel Richie, football manager Arsene Wenger, and comedian Russell Howard.
Read more: Best universities for business degrees
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