Behavioral Economics Career Options and Education Requirements

Sep 20, 2019

Behavioral economists use data about human behavior in designing economic policy. The field of behavioral economics continues to grow, offering a range of occupations including economist and economics professor. Some careers require as little as a bachelor's degree, but many positions call for graduate study.

Essential Information

Behavioral economics is an interdisciplinary field that teaches about analyzing consumer behavior and economic data in order to design more effective economic policies. It is unusual for universities to have undergraduate programs that focus on behavioral economics. The field draws heavily on psychology and sociology, so individuals interested in a career in behavioral economics may want to take courses in these areas in addition to economics classes.

At the graduate level, students may earn a professional certificate, master's degree or Ph.D. directly in behavioral economics. Courses may include decision making, taxation in public economies, technical analysis, ethics, finance theory and institutional economics. Degree programs are available in general economics, but students have the option of choosing courses that focus on behavioral economics. Professional certificate programs in this area are designed for individuals who have already earned a bachelor's degree and are working in the financial field.

Career Titles Behavioral Economics Researcher Behavioral Economics Consultant Behavioral Economics Professor
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree minimum;
Graduate degree preferred
Master's degree or higher typically required Doctorate degree
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* Market research analyst: 20% Economist: 8% Economics postsecondary teacher: 11%
Average Salary (2018)* Market research analyst: $70,960 Economist: $116,020 Economics postsecondary teacher: $117,180

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Options

Individuals who earn degrees in behavioral economics can work in research, consulting or education. Although various industries utilize the services of behavioral economists, industries that hire the most amount of employees in this field include scientific and technical consulting services, the federal government and educational institutions.

Behavioral Economics Researcher

Researchers and research assistants in this field work to improve economic understanding using studies on the psychology of decision making. Many may work as market research analysts, since they need to review the behavioral patterns of consumers and other businesses in order to make sound economic theories to explain various patterns. Individuals who wish to work in research but do not possess a Ph.D. may find work as research assistants. Research is performed in both the private and public sectors, often in universities. To lead a research project or lab, a Ph.D. is often required.

Researchers, research assistants, and market research analysts typically do not require licensure for this career field. There are voluntary certifications available, and earning these credentials may help researchers advance in their careers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that open positions for market research analysts, which could include behavioral economics researchers, would grow by 20% during the 2018-2028 decade. The need for research analysts has become far more prevalent as businesses strive to maintain and attract new clientele. Candidates who hold graduate degrees related to economics or market research may experience less competition in the job market as compared to those who only hold bachelor's degrees. In May 2018, the BLS reported that the average annual salary earned by market research analysts was $70,960.

Behavioral Economics Consultant

Behavioral economists working as consultants use their understanding of market behavior, sociology and psychology combined with statistical analysis to make suggestions or create business plans that increase the potential for success in the current market. Consultants may be self-employed, work for consulting firms or work for private companies. Although they may specialize in behavioral economics, organizations may hire on workers under the job title of consulting economist or economist consultant.

The majority of consultant positions for behavioral economists require professionals to hold graduate degrees, per the BLS. Those who only hold bachelor's degrees in related fields may find some entry-level positions, though. It is not uncommon for behavioral economists to have a background in market research and analysis. In fact, some people start off by earning their bachelor's degrees in general economics, gaining work experience in research and then pursuing graduate studies prior to taking on positions as consultants.

In the years between 2018 and 2028, the BLS predicted that open positions for all economists would increase by 8%. Although government agencies in the past have employed the highest number of economists, data gathered by the BLS implies that professionals will find more job opportunities in the private sector during the 2018-2028 decade. The average annual salary earned by all economists in 2018 was $116,020, as reported by the BLS.

Behavioral Economics Professor

Individuals who earn a Ph.D. also have the option of tenure-track university employment. These jobs focus on training the next generation of behavioral economists. Some opportunities are purely teaching positions, whereas others are combined teaching and research positions. Typical job duties for postsecondary professors include giving lectures, grading assignments, conducting independent research, communicating with students and working with administrative staff members. Part-time employment at community colleges or universities may be obtained by individuals with master's degrees.

In general, the BLS estimated that open positions for all postsecondary educators would grow by 13% between 2018 and 2028. During that same decade, new positions specifically for economics professors were expected to increase by 11%. The BLS reported that in May 2018 the average annual salary earned by economics professors was $117,180.

Behavioral economics offers a variety of fields, and careers in economics are expected to continue to grow and pay well. A degree is probably necessary, and increased education often leads to greater salaries.

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