Bryan Caplan  

Why You Should Major in Econ: Short and Sweet Version

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Jeff Miron has a whole op-ed on the wonders of the undergraduate econ major. But I think I can put the case for the econ major more succinctly. Here goes: Econ is the highest-paid of all the easy majors.

My students often howl in protest when I say this, but come on: Econ does not put the crimp on your social life that CS or Engineering do. It's not even close.

HT: Mankiw

P.S. Here's my argument for why Econ grad school is a great deal too.


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The author at Books and Suits in a related article titled Why am I majoring in Economics? writes:
    I entered college with the goal to become a theoretical astrophysicist. Once I discovered that a PhD in mathematics and physics would steal my soul and social skills, I changed to a major in Political Science. I’m going to become the President on... [Tracked on June 4, 2008 6:46 PM]
The author at Club for Growth in a related article titled Why Majoring in Economic is a Good Idea writes:
    Bryan Caplan's argument: "Econ is the highest-paid of all the easy majors."... [Tracked on June 5, 2008 3:39 PM]
COMMENTS (11 to date)
razib writes:

yeah. i can't find the chart, but i noticed that if you did plot of income after grad vs. SAT score, econ majors were WAY above the line of best fit ;-)

I'd require everyone to minor in it so people will become aware of how their world actually works. It's no panacea -- Krugman says something unrealistic pretty much every day -- but it would get less anti-economic thinking out there.

Peter Twieg writes:

I wouldn't necessarily call Econ an easy major, depending on where you go. At my undergraduate institution (Reed College), the third-year macroeconomics course was taught from David Romer's Advanced Macroeconomics, growth theory from Sala-i-Martin's Economic Growth, and.. I forget the econometrics text, but it was quite difficult. Unsurprisingly, the overall difficulty of the undergraduate experience was heavily correlated with how quantitative the work was... and I gather that my experience is the exception to the rule, but it's worth noting.

Also, my limited experience in CS (at another institution) wasn't so bad. A lot of annoying homework, to be sure, but nothing that took as much time to digest as tobit models or phase diagrams.

Kat writes:

Relatedly, what you should definitely not do is major in music, the lowest-paid of the most time-consuming majors. (Like I did.)

Drew writes:

I've been disappointed by the job prospects with my big state university economics degree. The finance majors from this school tend to do much better, and they do not seem to work any harder. One caveat, my goals are set very high in a difficult market. I am trying to get a job in investment banking. So, I've entered graduate school for finance.

Books and Suits writes:

I entered college with the goal to become a theoretical astrophysicist. Once I discovered that a PhD in mathematics and physics would steal my soul and social skills, I changed to a major in Political Science. I’m going to become the President one day, so why not?

But Political Science majors are a dime a dozen. Plus, it was hard to convince work that they should pay for me to study “Political Philosophy of the Ancient Greek Philosophers” and “Political Campaigns.” So then I stumbled upon Economics. I took “Principles of Macroecomonics” as an elective, and my professor made me fall in love with the subject. I enrolled in Microeconomics for the following semester, and now I am a bona fide Economics major.

http://booksandsuits.wordpress.com

Michael Stack writes:

That's definitely true. I studied CS and a friend studied CS, then dropped out into Econ. Econ is far easier (at least at the undergraduate level). I suspect they're closer in difficulty for graduate studies.

I once sat in a senior level econ class, and heard the following exchange:

Professor (after drawing diagram): "and so you can see that these goods then trade at close to marginal cost, clearly a good thing."

Student: "How is that good? It's cheaper for the consumer, but less money for the producer."

Me: "OMG."

The professor must have felt so depressed. This exchange occurred about 2 weeks prior to graduation.

agent00yak writes:

Haha, yes. In Engineering we used to talk about people "dropping out" into Econ. People major in Econ because it is the easiest major that still labels the graduate as somewhat quantitative, thus appeasing parents now and employers in the future.

Grant writes:

Econ is the highest-paid of all the easy majors.

Truly spoken by someone who has a good grasp of the incentives facing college students!

Engineering is a lot harder, but I'd say the skills learned from engineering courses and jobs puts one in a good position for entrepreneurship. Economics doesn't seem like it would.

You also don't really need a CS degree to work in the CS field. Some employers will no doubt require it, but there are plenty of other ways to signal competence to employers (such as participation in open source projects). If I had to guess, I'd say there is more specialization with CS than other fields, making a general education at a university less useful.

Michael Stack writes:

Grant wrote:

You also don't really need a CS degree to work in the CS field.

This is somewhat true, but the CS degree gives you an enormous advantage in landing a job, and your ability to do the job. I've known some very very smart programmers who lacked the CS background, and it showed.

When I studied CS (late 90's) a lot of people dropped out and studied IS instead (business school vs. Mathematics/Engineering). I too was tempted to change majors, as CS is very difficult, but sticking it out was one of the smartest things I've ever done.

If you can run the CS gauntlet you'll have employment opportunities galore.

Giovanni writes:

As a CS dropout, I make great money ($90K) and can easily get a dozen job offers (although hopping is a big no-no). However, the work is unpleasant, the pressure is very high, and the growth path beyond age 30 is dim. (I know many with great careers over 30, but the odds are against it) If I could do it over, I would definitely take econ.

There's tons of advice for college students. How about career change advice for 30 year olds?

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