Economics PhD the only one worth getting?


Here’s a case for doing an Economics PhD by Noah Smith, professor of finance at Stony Brook University. We think it’s an interesting argument, though there’s much more we need to investigate to work out whether this is an especially promising path for 80,000 Hours members. Regardless, we think that many of our readers will find this article and several of the embedded links useful.

If you’re persuaded, Smith also coauthored a guide on how to get into an Economics PhD program.


The article’s main points are:

  • Despite common arguments against doing “a PhD” (e.g., years of long hours with little pay, glut of PhDs on the job market, decline of tenure-track positions), PhDs are not created equal. Arguments against doing a PhD are much less applicable to economics PhDs than PhDs in other fields.

  • Economics PhDs stand out across four categories: near-guaranteed employment in a well-paid position, even for graduates of mid tier programs; autonomy to work on one’s own projects during graduate school; intellectual fulfillment; and a low failure rate given that the non-trivial percentage of students who fail their prelims still receive a master’s degree.

  • Drawbacks to doing an economics PhD include a low standard of living during graduate school, the stresses that come with a high degree of autonomy, and the field’s conservative culture.

  • Other good PhDs seem to be “marketing, applied math and statistics, finance, computer science, accounting, and management.” An economics PhD remains the best.

  • People considering an economics PhD should start graduate school as soon as possible. Smith expects the value of an economics PhD to decline over the next five to 10 years.

You might also enjoy:

The value of economics PhDs: A conversation with Robin Hanson

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States – Part of a larger handbook on graduate study in economics