Is there any value to getting a Master’s in economics?

That is a recent question from Michael.  I am a biased source, but I say yes for three reasons:

1. A master’s in economics, or for that matter many other areas, is of considerable value if you are working in the DC bureaucracy and trying to scale the ladder.

2. A master’s in economics can be of value in a non-profit organization.  It shows you understand the material, and can in some way help promote it, even if you are not producing the research yourself.

3. As Bryan Caplan will be chronicling, there is an increasing demand for degrees and advanced degrees in many endeavors, even when the degree appears irrelevant to the nature of the work.  Having a Master’s can set you apart from the crowd.

4. If you study more economics, you actually learn something.

Those of you with the highest of elite aspirations should opt for a Ph.d of course, but still the Master’s in economics will be making somewhat of a comeback.  I mean this as something above and beyond the terminal Master’s often given to those who, for whatever worthy reason, do not finish their Ph.d degrees.

I do not readily find good data on line about the economics Master’s, do any of you know of good sources?

Comments

"you actually learn something." Don't upset Bryan, but I think I actually learned quite a bit of useful stuff at Uniersity.

But not how to spell university :-)

"If you study more economics, you actually learn something." When I clicked on that link it just took me to a Google search box. That must be one of Mr Cowen's better japes.

Is it not possible to learn economics entirely from books?

It's possible, but not easy. Easier than trying to learn say calculus entirely from books, but still not easy. Some people can do it, most cannot.

As a senior in high school, I realized that economics was a potentially important and interesting topics, and that I had been taught almost nothing about it (aside from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and some labor history). So the summer after graduating, I checked a couple of economics textbooks out of the local library (municipal library, not college). I learned about the money multiplier and the Keynesian government spending multiplier (and found it cool that I could apply the stuff I'd learned in pre-calc about infinite series to those topics) -- and just about nothing else.

Maybe they were crummy books. But in contrast the intro econ that I took in college was eye-opening and mind-expanding. I quickly decided to major in economics and went on to econ grad school.

But it was those college classes that taught me economics. Not books, even though I tried them.

A masters degree in Economics can help get a lot of jobs that traditionally go to MBAs, but with coursework that can be more focused for the Economically inclined. From a top school it can be a path into banking or consulting. If done while at a job it can remove the need for "Going back for the MBA."

Some downsides vs an MBA:
- You don't learn what you don't know you need to learn. (The distribution requirements from an MBA)
- Placement offices can be weak. You need to chase the big name employers, rather than wait for them to come to you.

I emphasize the placement issue 100 times to people thinking about MA in Econ vs. MBA. Of course, MA in Econ is much more demanding than an MBA and has more interesting material to study. But still.

My impression on the academic difference is "It depends". My sense is that while the MBA programs force you to study topics that you might not want to learn, how much you actually learn is up to you. I learned quite a bit in my MBA program, though most of that was in Economics classes or from professors with a heavy economics bent. It was also because I pushed myself. You can get out without having pushed yourself, except in job placement. :-) For MBA programs out of the top 20 (or in bad years out of the top 12) the job placement is highly over-rated relative to the opportunity cost.

As someone who holds an M.A. in Economics (from GMU), and is still waiting to use it (15 months after graduation), I cannot stress the point of placement enough.

The number of times that I have thought, "If I had an MBA, I'd be working now."

What's your experience been trying to get a job in the field?

Let's differentiate between what's good for the individual or what is productivity-enhancing. I think it's worth the investment for an individual to get a master's degree given the demand for workers with background in economics. But in my experience in working for an international development organization where there is a large number of individuals with master's in economics, I think they bring very little to the table. These individuals usually have little or no technical skills - I don't mean writing technical papers for peer-reviewed journals but rather their analytical and reasoning skills. If you an interested in someone with strong background in economics, it would be worth your while to fork out a little and get someone with a PhD in economics. I can see an economics master's degree being valuable only if you can't have a someone with a PhD. As we all know, the gulf between undergraduate and graduate level training in economics is huge. Many master's degree program (with the exception of a few) tend to be just a slightly more advanced versions of undergraduate programs (e.g. some economics master's degree programs use the same textbooks as some undergraduate program). So the difference between someone who finished at a good PhD program and one who went through a terminal program is very significant - it makes a noticeable difference when you work with these individuals.

Needless to say, there are exceptions where a few individuals with master's in economics are far more capable than some PhD holder. But this is rare.

As someone who is currently taking a Master in Economics I second your point. I am mostly baffled at the low level of skills most students in my program have. They do not have proper writing skills because an undergraduate in economics (at least in Canada, where I am) barely writes any papers, and at the master level you get to write maybe 1 or 2. They have no training in programming besides basic Stata, and if they never took a history of economics class they can not tell Becker from Stiglitz. But mostly they are poorly read and so come up with boring questions, or questions that have already been asked. All the emphasis on taking derivatives, or setting up the same boring models means nothing if you don't know how to use that in the real world.
What I see is that most students coming out of economics need many years of work and life experience before they learn something, and how to use that something.

Canada is rather different from the US in one very important sense: the business and the economics majors are switched around. Stronger students go to business/commerce at the big universities, UBC/UoT/McGill, than they do in economics. In fact, at least at UBC and SFU you cant even start business courses unless you earned a high enough grade in a pre-requisite battery of econ courses. In the States on the other hand at serious universities economics is clearly the preferred major of strong students and 'business' is something community college types take.

So you'd make different hiring decisions than those who actually make those decisions at your international development organization? What do you think accounts for this discrepancy? Why do they continue to hire so many master's graduates?

With both a Master in Econ/Finance (I loaded up more on Finance in the end as I could not and still cannot stand Macro) from one of the top continental European departments and a top tier MBA, let me differentiate: Masters in Econ is a LOT more rigorous but obviously also a lot more theoretical. Content wise, I have my doubts on the usefulness of an MBA (doubly so if you have undergrad Econ or Business education) but if you go into consulting or IB after undergrad it is a nice, socially acceptable way to chill a year or two (especially if you get a full ride from your employer). Financially, an actual business case is hard to construct in that situation, however.

I could see an MBA to be useful for STEM undergrads wanting to advance, though. Or more generally, if you want to radically shift your career a couple of years after undergrad.

As for the PhD, I would have been suffering extreme boredom from that.

"Content wise, I have my doubts on the usefulness of an MBA."

Mostly you get to learn what people do on their various jobs. That was a big help to me, but then they let me in at age 21 straight out of undergrad, and B-schools don't do that anymore because they want to maximize their metric of graduates' starting salaries by admitting 27 year olds who are already successful.

The MBA was invented by Frederick Taylor (of "Taylorism") specifically so that engineers could get some business background (accounting, that sort of thing).

Allowing a business major to get an MBA is just stupid.

Why do so many Fortune 50s demand it?

And pay all of it, no less (partially it is a perk for young high potentials but it seems like the money could be spent more effectively).

Do many Fortune 50s demand it? Isn't it increasingly just the consulting firms and banks that are demanding it?

It's clearly a less valuable degree than it was just ten years ago.

This was my experience, but I went back in my late 30s. I still mostly do technical work but the MBA has made me a lot more sympathetic to the plight of people in other depertments. Still wouldn't want to do their jobs, and still think a lot of their questions are inane, but at least now I have some understanding of why certain things are important to others.

Just being 15% less likely to yell at/hang up on marketing/accounting/finance can be a major differentiator in an engineer-rich environment!

It costs $15,000 per year and just repeats what you had in undergrad for one more year. Enjoy your life young man, you're free. Quit this institutional hell. Go do something, go somewhere, don't waste a year or two of youth and sure as hell don't fund it with student loans. This is the new slavery and you gotta run and run hard from the slavecatchers because they're coming for you. Just say no to evil corporate bureaucracies for whom ruining your life is an acceptable cost of business like dumping toxins into a lake. Just say no. It was a mistake and I regret every single minute of it, and every single dollar of it while I am still paying for it eight years later. You don't learn anything. It's a scam. Just say no.

Wow, a voice of pure reason and common sense.

"like dumping toxins into a lake" -- that's funny!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lk4iOmb-osk

#5. You get to hang out with economists for awhile. If you're interested in economics, this experience will be more educational than any single book. You get to measure your knowledge against your peers both in economics and other fields, see how other people think about things you're interest in, get an idea of what it takes to be good in the field. Even if you find out your degree is worthless in a monetary sense, the experience of getting the degree is still priceless. For many people, nothing they do in later life will be as interesting as getting their degree.

Whether you hang out with economists depends on who your peer group is. If your peer group is people who have the chops for a PhD, but not the academic career aspiration, then it could be quite fulfilling. But my guess is that these people don't do MA's, they do MBA's in finance, or they do the PhD anyway and don't plan on getting a faculty job.

If you spent time in a grad program with both master's and PhD students, ask yourself how well they are sorted. Were there any MA students that were better than the worst PhD students? Better than the median?

On the faculty side, my sense (as a PhD student, albeit not in econ) is that faculty are not willing to invest in spending time with master's students. They're only around for a year or two, and even if they end up going into academia, their advisor at a subsequent PhD program will get the credit. If they become successful outside of academia, no one will know or care who they chatted with for a year or two in grad school.

You could argue that the money MA students bring in could incentivize faculty to spend time with them, but I think universities have not yet solved this particular principal-agent problem.

Get a Masters in econ or an MBA? Which one is better at the margin?

Depends what your goal is. Academia definitely Master in Econ. Want to build a company or advance carreer as a an executive in a large company than MBA.

I think the value of an MA in economics depends on the nature of the program and what one hopes to get out of it. I went back to university to get an econ masters after working for several years and it has served me well in public administration and international organizations (probably ideally suited to this kind of work, research not so much). The suggestion that the MA is just like undergrad (even using undergraduate texts) does not match my experience, although programs may differ in their level of rigor. In my university, MA and Ph.D. students took the same the core macro and micro courses. The one-term MA econometrics course was more applied, while the two-term Ph.D. course was more theoretical, aimed at people planning to do research in econometrics. I actually took the Ph.D. course but later wished that I had taken the more "hands-on" one. Ph.D students also had to take an additional course in an area of concentration (e.g. monetary economics). Otherwise the only difference between the two programs was the more rigorous thesis for the doctoral students.
Was it worth it? The disadvantage is that I only have an MA despite doing much the same work as a Ph.D. The upside is that I didn't take years out of my life to complete it (important since I was married with a kid at the time.) If you want to do research and can get into an elite institution then by all means go the doctoral route. Otherwise, for applied economists there is little to inherently recommend a Ph.D. from a second-tier university over an MA. HOWEVER, today there is a huge oversupply of young Ph.D.s from these lower ranked schools, so standing out with an MA is probably more chanllenging today than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

As a European econ undergrad, it's a necessary stepping-stone for academia. I don't know of any students from my year at Oxford that went straight from Ba to PHD.

If you are ridiculously good (top 1%), maybe you can. But for average student, it is really necessary.

I think the opposite is largely true in the US. BA/BS to Ph.D. is very common in most fields.

It depends on the quality of the master itself... The master should contain courses with a heavy component of econometrics and advanced math / financial math, as without mastering those tools, a master in economics is in deed not very useful. For the background theory, I suppose that in the bachelor, the student already got some more basic micro/macro stuff.

In North America students are often admitted to graduate studies straight from a BA, and those that don't make it in the Ph.D program get a masters degrees as a consolation prize. As a result, the MA has come to be seen as an indicator of poor performance, which unfarily tarnishes those who never intended to get a Ph.D. in the first place. If economics departments marketed the MA differently, e.g. targeting people who wanted to return to school for some additional training after having worked for a while in the "real world" (like MBAs), I think it would become a more attractive option.

Harry: I think that's more the US. The Canadian MA economics is usually a degree in its own right, and marketed as such, and not just a consolation prize. Some who complete the MA will continue into a PhD program, sometimes at a different university, but many won't, and never intended to. I don't know about Mexico.

I echo Nick's comments about the Canadian economics MA. That was my experience. Most people wanting more econ rigor and , but not wanting to go into academia, seek out the MA as a way to do that. Most enrollees have no intention of undertaking a Ph.D and consider it a separate stream.

Nick is right about Canadian MA degrees, and the same goes for MAs in other advanced Commonwealth countries. The U.S., as usual, is more heterogeneous. There are, as someone noted, the MAs that come from flunking the comprehensive exams. Then there are the MAs--tons of them in the DC area--that are money makers for universities extracting funds from government department benefit programs or from the coffers of the IMF/ World Bank/IAD; very uneven quality of students and teachers there. Finally there are the MAs offered by weaker universities that cannot sustain a doctoral program. They sometimes depend heavily on foreign students and, in a lot of cases, and like Canadian MAs, can be pretty decent because they are trained to do that they actually end up doing: serving in analytical or technical support roles for think tanks, governments, or NGOs.

I think it's that kind of indicator in academic circles, but I don't think employers see it that way. They just see an MA as more school.

As a US student who spent the last six months weighing the values of different programs, Harry comment seems to be true especially in regards to the Top 25 programs. You do not start seeing separate terminal programs until you reach the late teens, and even there they are rare. The change seems to be coming from the bottom up, so to speak, where many mid-level schools are offering M.A. programs that are more focused on applied knowledge, which is basically just copying some of the M.S. programs that business schools have offered for many years. Econ departments are worried about losing students/money to M.S. Applied Econ/Analytics types of programs that are popping up left and right.

Somewhere or other there's a joke about economists not being able to count. You say there are three reasons but give four!

Drawing from a more general joke: there are only three kinds of economists: those who can count and those who can't.

Actual terminal masters in econ programs may be becoming popular again. For example, UMaryland now offers one designed to serve people who want to be in DC. http://masters.econ.umd.edu/

This could mean less of the bad stigma on MA degrees, since it's not for people who are actually attempting a PhD.

These are cash cows for the DC area universities. The universities all know that no one signing up for these degrees is paying his or her own bills. I'm not convinced the quality is there.

Got my MS via Gene Woolsey's guild system. He had three requirements for a thesis - you had to solve a real world problem for an organization, they had to use your solution, and it couldn't be over 35 pages. It was an incredibly useful education.

http://www.lionhrtpub.com/orms/orms-6-99/teaching.html

I would like to believe that the study of economics sharpens critical thinking and reading skills, which is the foundation for success in any endeavor. I say I would like to believe it because economics was my major. But today I'm not so certain that's the case, because the study of economics has become so politicized and polarized, almost like religion, with adherence to the revealed truth being the goal of those who teach it. Economics has become so much like religion that if I were in college today (I graduated over 40 years ago) I would study religion rather than economics. At least religion majors study more than one religion. Today economists dominant the public discussion, much as historians did in the past, and it's not surprising given the degree of polarization in society. Critical thinking and reading skills could reduce the polarization, but I don't believe that's what's taught to young men and women studying economics today. Indoctrination is more like it, closer to theology than enlightenment.

At least you can choose your denomination: Harvard, Chicago, MIT, or Berkeley.

That's true of almost every major. Even in STEM classes you get exposed to the religion; it's just a little less effective because there actually are right and wrong answers in the subjects being taught. What's interesting about the claim of indoctrination (which I strongly agree with) is that according to GSS data, college graduates are still more likely to be Republicans, though the split is a little towards the Democrats for recent grads. Do people get more conservative as they get older, or is indoctrination working?

Indoctrination as Republican or Democrat?

I think the consensus is Democrat, though it's conceivable the strategy is to be so over-the-top left that you actually drive people right.

There are also dual econ Master's / MBA programs. I know Boston University has one. Does anywhere else? Does anyone know if they're worthwhile?

As an employer and economic consultant, I encourage people to get a Masters of Econ. The additional training in econometrics and experience in programming with a statistical package is worth the time and money. There are lots of high-paying jobs for people with these skills. I have a PhD and would only steer people that way if they want to go into academics or litigation support.

+1 agreed. There are many, many, many 100K+ jobs out there just for people to write SAS and R code, which is something a person with a master's in econ should know how to do. Developing skill in this craft will pay off much better than a PhD on average, unless you're really interested in the non-pecuniary benefits of a PhD.

People can get "additional training in econometrics and experience in programming with a statistical package" in undergrad, and in fact that's preferable.

Done right, an undergrad economics degree includes a hefty dose of programming and data work - after graduation, everybody is going to be a programmer with strong statistics and some subject-matter background.

If you find your undergrad program hasn't realized this yet, you need to generate research experiences with professors (just walk into their offices and ask if you can help), good summer internships, and project/lab classes. This has long been the recipe for undergrad success in technical fields, and as economics becomes a technical field where people can actually get real jobs (thank god for data), it's become the path to success there too.

Just say no to the PhD. Unless you can't live without a tenured professorship, or you need a visa, give it a pass and do something important instead.

"Just walk in?" Stay the hell out of my office I have a clock running.

I hire people who have pulled this off successfully all the time. I certainly did it myself as an undergrad, although not in economics. It may be that it's easier at better schools.

Regardless of how you accomplish it, it's certainly very common to accomplish it, and not having accomplished it is going to require major compensating factors elsewhere in your experiences.

Here in Australia you need honours (an Australian thing that is like doing a masters in an extra year of undergrad) or a masters to get admitted to a PhD. The level of honours/masters in econ is high and would definitely be considered better than an undergrad non-honours degree by employers.

Also in Australia, and with a STEM Bachelor, I've been (I believe reasonably) advised that I should not undertake an Economics PhD without first completing an Econ Masters. My recent MBA is not worth anything much as prequalification for a doctorate, even with excellent results in the economic, statistical and other quantitative units.

I can't speak for economics, but in epidemiology the MSc is pretty much the entry-level degree for working with various public health agencies. Students in my MSc program are there to (in declining prevalence of motives):

1) Access better jobs or improve their earnings at their current one, in the case of those working for the government.
2) Improve their chances of getting into medical school.
3) Avoid real life for two more years (I can't see that they have post-graduation plans at all).
4) Open the doors for a PhD run.

Anyone know of any literature that ranks programs that offer MA's without offering Ph.D.'s?

I looked for weeks and didn't find anything. I eventually just went down the USNWR, noted the programs that offered terminal MAs, and researched those programs myself.

"Those of you with the highest of elite aspirations..."

In the "DC bureaucracy" and "non-profit" think tanks?

Yeah, the world needs more of those.

If we don't think that the economic master's is a good value proposition, then we should really think about changing it. Do applied students need to work through rigorous proofs of Kuhn-Tucker (my top 20 grad school did that in our first year) or take tests for whether they have memorized every distribution formula? I didn't touch a computer or statistics program my first year of grad school; it was all incredibly poorly taught math proofs.

I had just such a dilemma during my last year of undergrad. I was an engineer with only a few classes to take for graduation, but due to sequential prerequisites I needed a full year to graduate. I was looking to take some useful and interesting classes, so I upsized my minor in econ to start a MS Econ. Initially I'd hoped to use it as an alternative to an MBA. However, I found that in industrial fields it wasn't considered a differentiator. Unless the person is dead set on a career where the particular skills of an MS Econ are needed, I'd go with the MBA. The MBA provides more versatility and more networking opportunities. If technical modeling and econometric techniques are needed, why not just go for a Masters in Data Analytics or Math with a suitable concentration?

I agree that signaling matters, and if your Masters school is significantly better than your undergrad school, that could help. Similarly, adding some analytical rigor to a non-technical undergrad degree could help.

I've been considering the terminal applied Masters program at UMD. As an English undergrad (and therefore, obviously an idiot :) A terminal masters seems like it has several advantages:

1. Lower entrance requirements, especially in math.
2. More credibility than an additional bachelor's in the same general time frame
3. More econ-focused than an MBA, which I think is important for signaling types of potential jobs.

Any thoughts?

Don't forget that most graduate degrees are diploma mill garbage. If you work for an employer that requires one for advancement or automatically pays you more for having one "even when the degree appears irrelevant to the nature of the work" (guess which employer that might be...) it's a smart purchase, but that's what it is, a purchase. A masters in econ is probably a real degree, so it would have some credibility outside the public sector.

I'm not sure I agree with 2; it's certainly not true in all cases. I suppose it depends on the degree.

Thanks for your thoughts. Of course, any graduate education is a purchase, the real question is the ROI. You don't think that most employers look at a master's degree as superior to a bachelor's degree from the same institution? Of course a bachelor's from MIT will carry more weight than a master's from, say, Virginia Commonwealth, but that's not really relevant to most people's real-world choices.

There are most definitely employers who look down on master's degrees and especially PhDs. This is common in tech.

There are selection factors besides brainpower that lead people to graduate degrees. Not all of them are desirable.

Actually I was saying it was a purchase rather than an education. Whether an employer would view a masters as superior to a bachelors from the same institution depends on the area of study and probably its relevance as a qualification. I suspect a masters in English would be a good way to differentiate yourself, but maybe that's too narrow a focus, and you'd be better off with another bachelors in an unrelated field that leverages the English degree. On the other hand, as Lord Acton notes, a lot of employers are puzzled as to why somebody would get a graduate degree in engineering unless they intended to pursue an academic career.

"There are most definitely employers who look down on master’s degrees and especially PhDs. This is common in tech."

Slightly off topic, but one interesting tech field in which graduate degrees in engineering are preferred is...stock car racing. There's at least one technical team in NASCAR led by an engineering PhD, and openings for that type of job generally list masters or higher as a preferred qualification; a bachelors in some engineering discipline has become a de-facto job requirement for new crew chiefs - http://nascartalk.nbcsports.com/2015/02/20/gentlemen-start-your-engineers-college-educations-increasingly-calling-the-shots-in-nascar/

Yeah, I've worked in engineering environments (I don't now) where a PhD was required for most of the staff. The important thing to note is that a PhD is not a better engineer, he's a more specialized engineer. Sometimes that's what you need. Sometimes it's not what you need. I've also worked in engineering environments that were deeply skeptical of PhDs.

My take on it is that PhD programs attract the second tier of good engineering students - you have to be really good to get into a good PhD program and finish it, but not so good that better opportunities aren't thrust upon you as graduation approaches. In engineering, the real world is so much better funded, and that matters so much more in a field where you build stuff, that all the really cool opportunities to get something done are outside of academia. So that makes the PhD less tempting for great people.

I'd agree with you on your points, but am not sufficiently familiar with industries where the MS econ is highly valued. My study was more for personal interest, and the fact I could get the Econ degree faster than an MBA - which I ended up getting later anyway. Oh, and I did the coursework but never finished the Econ thesis, so no Masters degree. The understanding sure made a couple MBA classes easy.

Be careful about opportunity costs. I probably wouldn't give up a halfway decent job to go back full time, unless it was a top 10 program. Can you take it part-time, like a weekend/evening MBA?

As an employer at a small firm, I generally much more focused on job related skills than the sheepskin. I want to see that you got your ticket punched (a degree), or have a good story otherwise. I'd consider some of the online educational courses. Scoring top 5% in several MIT OpenCourseware classes would be more impressive to me than a low-mid tier degree. You could also tailor your learning to those skills sought by your desired employer / industry. I'd start by buying a few cups of coffee for anyone that will speak with you in your target field and getting advice.

The signaling value of a terminal MA in economics is near-zero to most employers; I leave mine off most resumes because it makes me look unfocused. An MBA isn't much better.

With respect to the "learning value," most people can learn just as much from blogs and self-selected reading than they will from a terminal MA, and a terminal MA is (conservatively) ~50-250k in opportunity costs and ~25-100k in direct costs.

Finally, I found graduate school to be very brain-washy: lots of political agendas from professors, and if you're not on board...

My advice: save yourself 250k and skip the terminal MA. Its value in the job market is near-zero, and you can self-study to satiate any curiosity. If you want to eventually go into academia, get a second undergrad in math instead. If you want to write, just write.

There are MA programs that are funded, you know. Having a stipend + tuition waiver brings it down a little lower than 250k. The value in a MA is derived from the coursework and not the signaling of a graduate degree. If you're going to be lazy and not seek out applied skill sets, you're probably making a mistake.

With respect to costs, agree to disagree. If you're smart enough to get funded, then, barring emotional problems that can be masked or overlooked in graduate school but not in the marketplace, we're probably looking at high opportunity costs somewhere else.

With respect to the value being the courses themselves, agree to disagree. There's nothing in terms of left-brained learning that can't be done with self-study, particularly with the large (and growing) quantity of high-quality instructional material online.

According to Payscale's College Salary Report:
Degree Starting Mid-Career
Bachelor's of Economics $51,400 $97,700
Bachelor's of Business Economics $48,000 $83,400
Master's in Economics $61,600 $113,600
MBA in Economics $71,400 $131,800
Doctorate in Economics $95,900 $127,900

These are not adjusted for any demographics so there are selection effects. I'm not sure about sample sizes, but the full database is based on 1.4 million people. The average graduate degree is probably based on a sample size of about 1700. It looks to me like a Master's is a bad idea if you already have the Bachelor's in Economics. If you picked a lesser paying major or couldn't find any jobs in your field, it's probably an okay choice. Still, an MBA looks like a much better deal.

Glad to hear it. My 1965 vintage MA from Northwestern has served me well. I easily got job offers from the two largest Chicago banks (RIP). And, I have fond memories of my instructors: Clower, Eisner, Williamson et. al. Plus I got to hear Sir John Hicks!

1. Though pay has certainly improved in the last decade or so, my sense is that public sector work remains extremely low prestige, at least outside academia or related professions. I don't know that this is much of a selling point for most people.

2. The importance of understanding the material isn't limited to non-profit organizations; why do you limit your statement that way?

3. Even a bachelors degree is simply a filtering mechanism in many cases. Graduate degrees, at least in some fields, are pretty much the same thing.

4. Agreed - your best argument for an econ degree.

Is there any less value in an economics masters relative to other social science masters? I will concede that I haven't understood the purpose of getting a Masters and then getting a PhD, but maybe they count 'time served' on the PhD.

My own experience in having gotten a Master's in Economics in my thirties while working is that the degree was worthwhile to me mostly because it sated (albeit temporarily) my intellectual curiosity while broadening the scope of how I approach industry-level modeling issues at my office job. I say mostly because I believe I also improved my ability to make critical assessments of econometric models, which has led to more opportunities at my office as a trusted evaluator.

Lot's of value (check the NABE employment/salary figures http://nabe.com/Careers/index).

I guess though the correct question is: Relative to what? Not getting one? getting an MBA? Getting a masters in petroleum engineering?

The key IMO, having been on both sides of the hiring desk in the private sector: Make sure your degree is on the quantitative side. Masters Degrees and MBAs vary widely. Some, the highest statistics is business statistics (sadly, no joke). Others are closer to an MS in Finance.

Also, complement the degree with other creds: like CFA, CPA (if you can), or actuarial exams.

Once you get your MA, you will be given the opportunity to upgrade to a Ph.D for just a little more money and time.

This will be a test of whether you understood sunk and marginal costs, and your understanding of indentity economics and behavioral economics.

you will have to start from the beginning at pretty much any phd program

As a manager in a quantitative function at a top ten financial institution, I can attest that our quantitative risk modeling departments are primarily staffed by employees with a Master's in Economics/Applied Economics. The institution I work for does not have a large employment presence in NYC and thus we get more candidates with graduate education from a wide variety of schools. Why do I hire a Master's in Economics rather than an MBA? I have more certainty about the quantitative rigor of the typical Economics program compared to the typical MBA program. With very imperfect information about the program quality at the various schools from which my candidates originate, I have much more confidence in the typical Economics graduate as opposed to the typical MBA graduate. I have found that there is much more hetergeneity in MBA programs than Economics programs.
Regarding the demand for this skill set: Given the regulatory emphasis on Model Risk Management, Basel III, and CCAR/DFAST, the demand for the econometric skill set in the finance industry is extremely high at this time. I suspect the pendulum will swing back at some point in the future, but for now, recruitment in this area is a major focus for financial institutions of all sizes.

Gives you an automatic salary bump as a teacher (true for other public sector positions too).

My 30-year old Econ Masters and $5 will buy me breakfast at McDonald's. The program I attended was a "terminal" Masters program with the school not beginning a Ph.D. program until several years later.

It's all about math and computer skills now; actually, it's all about the credentials saying you have math and computer skills. Also, heaven help you if you're over 50.

I earned an MA in Econ from GMU (1987) and I can say that it helped me both in #1 (in the Federal bureaucracy) and #4 (learned something). My 40-year career path as a government economist (1971-2011) is not completely relevant today, but a Master's Degree is far more necessary now than when I graduated from Maryland with a BA in economics and was hired by the Commerce Dept as a well-paid intern. Once inside the government I was able to advance to Economist positions by good performance on important projects, but by 1980 the job market for government economists was so tight that I enrolled in the GMU grad school and took one course per semester for six years.

There is a lot to say for studying in a Master's program 10 years after completing a BA in Econ, especially after 10 years as a practicing economist. Not only was it a heavy-duty refresher course, but 10 years of work experience helps with your perspective. Also, the Master's course work was at a higher intellectual level most of the time. And it was broadening to learn from a different school of economic thought -- Maryland in the 1970s was heavily Keynsian, while GMU in the 1980s was heavily populated with Austrians and Public Choice schoolers.

Oops! I should have said "...by 1980 the job market for government economists was so oversupplied..." . The term "tight" is bureacratic jargon for the insider's view of static budgets and less hiring and fewer promotions.

This is very heavily dependent on the institution that grants the degree.

If you're interested in doing applied financial/economic analysis work, you're much better off getting an MBA from a place like U Chicago, NYU, or MIT than getting a masters in econ from just about anywhere (I'm not including masters degrees in things like quantitative finance). The MBA will give you the skills that you need assuming that you take the right classes, and more importantly, it will give you a direct pipeline to recruiters.

Meanwhile, I'd say that a masters in economics from a place like LSE, NYU, Cambridge, or Oxford is more valuable than most MBAs out of the top 50, and arguably out of the top 25, depending on exactly what you want to do.

The brand gives you access to networks and on-campus recruiters and THAT is the single most important thing when it comes to increasing the probability of getting a good job.

A little more than one year out and I'm still waiting for something other than temp work...

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