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What can you do with an economics degree?

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What can you do with an economics degree?

Sometimes maligned as dull and depressing (19th century historian Thomas Carlyle called it "the dismal science"), economics is now looking increasingly relevant and like a practical route to a solid paycheck for many college students.

That's not surprising considering how much economic issues have driven the news in recent years. Popular books about economics, notably "Freakonomics," the 2005 bestseller by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, probably haven't hurt the subject's cool factor, either.

Also helpful: economics majors are among the top earners right out of college, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a nonprofit that studies employment trends for college graduates. The average salary for an economics major in his or her first job was $54,634, according to the organization's Spring 2011 Salary Survey. That's up 9.7 percent from a year earlier. "Consulting, investment banking, and finance companies are showing the most interest in these graduates," says Mimi Collins, a NACE spokeswoman.

Growing numbers of college students are choosing to major in economics. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. colleges and universities handed out a record 26,299 bachelor's degrees in economics in 2008-09, the most recent year for which data was available. That's the highest number of any year since 1949. And it reflects an upward trend in econ degrees since the mid-1990s.

Though fewer students get graduate degrees in economics, these are also becoming more common. In 2008-09, colleges and universities handed out 3,233 master's degrees, another all-time high. They awarded 1,015 doctorates, down only slightly from the record high of 1,025 the previous year.

So what jobs are open to these recent grads? Like business or finance, economics is a flexible degree that can pave the way to a wide range of career options, such as:

Economist: A doctorate is often a prerequisite for this job, which involves analyzing the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. There are many types of economist (microeconomist, industrial economist and international economist, to name just a few). If you tuned into TV or the radio during the recession, you probably heard from economists who track the financial sector.

Even though their work is in demand, employment of economists is actually projected to grow more slowly than average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's because government sectors that employ economists are shrinking, and because workers with in-depth knowledge of economics are more likely to head for other industries such as finance or insurance.

Average salary: $106,440*

Financial analyst: A bachelor's degree in economics is one route to becoming a financial analyst, responsible for guiding corporations, organizations and individuals as they make investment decisions.

Average salary: $74,526*

Purchasing manager: Buying goods and services for large entities such as corporations, hospitals or universities often requires at least a bachelor's degree in some area of business, including economics.

Average salary: $91,714*

Auditor: Auditors evaluate financial operations and guard against waste and fraud within businesses, organizations and government agencies. Though many auditors have accounting degrees, others have a background or major in economics.

Average salary: $73,935*

Insurance underwriter: Economics is one of several finance-related degrees that can serve as good preparation for insurance underwriting. Using computers and sophisticated analysis, underwriters determine whether to provide insurance, and how the policy can be written to minimize the company's risk.

Average salary: $65,893*

*Figures are the annual salaries listed on

Last Updated: 02/06/2011 - 12:37 PM

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