What is economics?
Economics, at its very heart, is the study of people. It seeks to explain what drives human behaviour, decisions and reactions when faced with difficulties or successes. Economics is a discipline which combines politics, sociology, psychology and history.
When you study economics you gain a toolkit of skills, approaches and ways of thinking that you can apply to a wide range of problems. Economics is one of the central disciplines underpinning the study of business and management and public policy.
Economics - a useful tool
An economics degree gives you a high level of mathematical and statistical skills and the ability to apply economic principles and models to problems in business, finance and the public sector. More broadly, economic concepts can be applied to understand the logic of complicated data, to see how things relate to each other, and to see the broader context.
Some of the specific skills you develop include:
- communication - presenting ideas in a well-defined framework and supported by evidence that uses complex data
- numeracy - handling complex data and techniques of mathematical and statistical analysis
- analytical skills.
There are careers that use specific knowledge of economics, for example banks, insurance, accountancy firms, businesses and in government. These jobs may involve identifying financial risks or making decisions about where a company or a government should invest its resources in the future, or even how to design a bidding platform for eBay. There are also roles for economists in think tanks and consultancies that advise governments and companies on public policy, such as how to deal with the Greek debt crisis.
More broadly, an economics degree helps prepare you for careers that require numerical, analytical and problem solving skills – for example in business planning, marketing, research and management. Economics helps you to think strategically and make decisions to optimise the outcome.
Especially in demand are people who have studied Economics and Finance as they are particularly well-prepared for jobs in banking and the financial sector, such as in accountancy firms.
The well-developed methodologies used in the economics profession have helped the subject expand into providing tools for other disciplines, such as politics, law, health, education, management, and many others. Some worry that by using the approaches of economics, the assumption is being made that people are rational in the way they behave. To counter this, economists are bringing in insights from behavioural science, psychology, and neuroscience.
The way forward
In terms of new employment areas, economists would be well prepared for roles in ‘Big Data’. This is a new field and is about analysing large volumes of data to identify patterns, and so help businesses or governments make better decisions. This could be, for example, in relation to customer behaviour, the spread of diseases, crime patterns, or trends in financial markets.
With the plan for an integrated ASEAN Economic Community among the 10 nations of South East Asia, there may be demand among central banks and governments for financial economists who can identify and manage risks and develop financial regulations to meet the needs of the new market.
You may need to follow your bachelor's with a master’s to get the relevant specialist skills if you want to work in a competitive area such as for governments, banks or consultancies, or if you want to specialise in an area such as health, employment, insurance, or regional economic development.
Graduates may also use postgraduate study as a route to gaining professional qualifications required to work in certain career areas, such as accountancy or other financial professions.
Advice to prospective students
There is no doubt that to be a great economist, one has to be able to master the methods used in the profession, and have good maths and statistical skills to do this.
You also need to be interested in the world around you from history, to politics, to international affairs and consumer behaviour in your country and worldwide, as these all impact on how individuals, companies and governments behave and make decisions.
Yu-Hsiang Lei [on right] studied for a bachelor's in Business Administration at the National Taiwan University. He studied for a master’s in econometrics and mathematical economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science in London, where he now is studying for a PhD degree.