Should economists aspire to be academics or to work in government?

From Scott Jaschik at InsideHigherEd:

The study was based on data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates, and also on surveys of economics Ph.D.s who entered or left programs in certain years. The work was conducted by Wendy Stock, professor of economics at Montana State University, and John Siegfried, professor of economics at Vanderbilt University.

Comparing four cohorts of economics Ph.D.s by year graduated (from 1997 through 2011), the study found that while a majority still enter academe, that share is going down. And while salaries for those in business and industry exceeded those in academe throughout the period studied, the time span saw salaries in government grow such that they too now exceed those in academe.

In 1997 63.7% of new economics Ph.d.s went into academia, as of 2011 it is 56.3%.  The government to academia salary over that same time went from 0.87 to 1.17, see the chart at the initial link.  For instance:

…for those who earned Ph.D.s in 1997, the average annual salary increase was 8.2 percent. But for academics that was 5.7 percent, while for non-academics it was 15.0 percent.

You can earn more if you were hired later:

“Indeed, the median salaries of graduates of full-time permanent 9-10 month academic economists hired in 2002-3 actually exceeded the median 2003 salaries of their counterparts initially hired in 1997-98,” the paper says.

There is a marriage penalty for women but not for men, and the paper reports this:

The surveys of new Ph.D.s also asked them about the doctoral education they received. Among the findings:

  • Most said that the overall emphasis in their programs was “about right.”
  • Most also reported too little emphasis on “applying economic theory to real-world problems,” “understanding economic institutions and history” and “the history of economic ideas.”
  • Mathematics was viewed by most as more important in graduate school than in their careers.
  • Skills in application, instruction and communication were more important in their careers than in graduate school.

Here are related thoughts from Megan McArdle and from Bryan Caplan.  Can any of you find a link to the actual paper on-line (try this:


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