July 05, 2005
The Hot College Major: Economics
Posted by Darren Roulstone

I once heard that 25% of all University of Chicago undergraduate students were majoring in economics.  Courtesy of today's Wall St. Journal (subscriber only), I've learned that the actual number is 24% (out of last year's graduating class) and that the popularity of economics as a major is on the rise across the nation and globally. 

The number of economics degrees awarded  in the U.S.  increased by 40% from 1999-2004.  In addition to Chicago, it is now the most popular major at NYU and Harvard.  The explanation?  "In a global economy filled with uncertainty, many students see economics as the best vehicle for a job promising good pay and security."

More is at work than just job prospects: "...there are even some signs that economics is becoming cool."  Of course, what article on how economics is cool would be complete without a mention of Steven Leavitt: "The surprise best-seller of the spring was "Freakonomics," a book co-authored by a University of Chicago economist, Steven Levitt, which examines issues ranging from corruption among real estate agents to sumo wrestling."

Whatever your feelings are regarding "Freakonomics", I think the increasing popularity of economics is a good thing.  A good economics course (coupled with a rigorous class in statistics) provides a lot of tools for making intelligent assessments of the world.  Nicholas Rendler at Brown University agrees: "He chose a major combining economics, sociology, and anthropology because he things economics is crucial to understanding the world."

Of course, Mr. Rendler also "says he finds economics boring."  Just as long as it's not the economists who are found boring, I'll take it.

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