The new economists are heading east this winter.
Every January, soon-to-be economics doctorates invade a city, in search of employment; this year it’s Boston. The American Economics Association’s Annual Meeting is the discipline’s cattle call.
Hundreds of wide-eyed, besuited, name-tagged graduate students will spend the first weekend of the new year racing from hotel room to hotel room, giving half-hour job interviews about their research papers, what they’re interested in teaching about and future projects. If they’re lucky, they’ll get a callback — typically a “flyout” to an office or campus. Hirers include central banks, investment banks, consultancies, corporations, government agencies, nonprofits, think tanks and universities across the world — from Aarhus to Zhongnan .
Job Openings for Economists — known affectionately, or not, as JOE — lists 1,217 open positions, as I write.
So what do all these young men and women do, exactly — what are their academic interests, and what is their research about? Let’s preview the next generation of economists.
I visited the job candidate websites of top economics Ph.D. programs to canvas the interests of the graduating class. 1 There are 308 candidates listed by the 17 schools I looked at — an average of about 18 candidates a school. I recorded their primary field — the main subset of economics in which they work. I also recorded the title of their job market paper. In many academic job markets, including economics, a candidate submits to a potential employer a curriculum vitae, letters of reference and a job market paper. The last is important, and is meant to showcase the candidate’s research interests and skills. In many ways it’s the culmination of their doctoral work. 2
These are the fields in which this year’s economist crop works. I’ve included just those fields that appeared at least twice.
As a single field, macroeconomics dominates. Macroeconomists are concerned with
the “big picture” — an economy’s growth, employment and inflation. Microeconomists are concerned with individual decision makers and markets.
However, there is also significant overlap between many of the fields, and the boundaries are fuzzy. Industrial organization, for example, is the study of firms, and how they behave and fare in different types of markets. An expert in “IO” might go to work for, say, the Federal Trade Commission. Game theory is the study of strategic interactions among small groups of actors, and resembles mathematics as much as it does anything else. A true game theorist is likely bound for academia. Both fields could easily be included in a broader microeconomic category. Some international economics could be combined with some development economics, and so on. For this chart, I’ve remained true to the fields as the candidates had listed them.
Also, certain schools’ students tend to cluster in certain fields. Seven of Minnesota’s 16 candidates do macro. Only one of Yale’s 12 does. Caltech is two-thirds theorists; MIT has only one. 3
Many schools give qualifying exams in a student’s early grad school years in three subjects: macroeconomics, microeconomics, and econometrics. Econometrics — sophisticated statistics and mathematics applied to economic data — is the least populated of the three, with just 14 listing it as their primary area of research.
Collapsing some of the overlapping categories above gives a rough “macro-micro-metrics” breakdown of new Ph.D.s at rough percentages of 45/45/10.
Maybe we can learn even more from the job market paper titles. They’re a motley bunch. There are the highly descriptive. “Asymptotic Sizes of Subset Anderson-Rubin Tests with Weakly Identified Nuisance Parameters and General Covariance Structure.” The punny. “Bittersweet: How Prices of Sugar-Rich Foods Contribute to the Diet-Related Disease Epidemic in Mexico.” The rhyming. “Dynamic Panics: Theory and Application to the Eurozone.” And even the intriguing. “How to Catch Capone: The Optimal Punishment of Interrelated Crimes.”