Why employers want graduate economists

Feb 20, 2023 | Sector & policy

A new book looks at why graduate economists are so sought after, the diversity challenge, and how universities can support them, explain authors Vicky Pryce and Andy Ross.

University economics is often perceived as being a rather abstract academic subject, but the evidence is that economics is actually among the most vocational of all degree subjects.

The strong demand for economists is reflected in the financial remuneration for economics graduates: Graduate Outcomes data shows that median earnings for economics graduates are near the top for all degree subjects, second only to ‘medicine and dentistry’ five years after graduation and topping the league for all degree subjects for upper quartile earning ten years after graduation.

Read more about why is Graduate Outcomes data so useful?

Of course, career success and economics are not all about money or GDP; it is also about work-life balance and the intrinsic satisfaction from one’s job.

Our new book How to be a Successful Economist explains how a degree in economics opens the door to an exceptionally wide range of rewarding jobs and occupational paths.

Transferable skills

Insights from eminent practitioner economists (in the text and also in the zoom interviews accessible to those who get the book) into what working as a professional economist is really about, and the skills that employers seek, show that far from the all-too-common misperception that economics is about ‘rich men making money’, economics can be a potent force for improving the lives of billions of human beings.

Employers’ prize economics graduates for their possession of ‘hard skills’ such as analytical and quantitative skills, but there are also more ‘soft’ and broader skills needed to become a successful practitioner economist.

Graduates can improve their employment prospects by learning how to communicate complexity simply and adjust to different audiences. There are many examples in the book including advice for how to please and get the best from one’s boss by ‘managing upwards’, as well as the need for practical application, operational delivery and ‘ground knowledge’ when addressing real-world tasks.

Notwithstanding the outstanding success of its graduates, the designers of economics degrees have been rising to the challenge of embedding employability into their curriculums. It is not easy to reproduce the workplace in a classroom, and so the book provides lots of advice and examples as to how to adapt communication styles to suit varied stakeholders, including the presentation of data to non-economists.

The diversity challenge

The lack of diversity in economics is chastised in the book as we look at how we can work towards a more diverse body of economists.

We know diversity can improve an organisation’s performance, but for such an important and influential subject as economics, it is also crucial for democracy that economics is not only for elites.

It is vital that it is taught as widely in state schools as its strong representation in fee-paying schools. Having an A-Level in economics varies from 25% for private school boys to less than 4% for state school girls.

Ethnicity, socio-economic background and gender among economists is examined, and so the authors make a passionate plea, “If more economists in the world would be a good thing, then a larger and more diverse body of economists would be an even better thing. Whoever you are, we invite and welcome you to a career as an economist.”

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