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Overview of Economics

Economics studies human behavior in many settings. At the household level, economics investigates how a household allocates its income across goods, and how a household chooses how much to work, spend, and save. At the market level, economics investigates consumer decisions (what to buy and how much to spend); decisions firms make about their production methods and levels of output; and how these decisions jointly determine market prices, structure, and performance. At the aggregate level, economics investigates the determinants of growth and fluctuations of national income, the determinants of inflation and unemployment, the nature of trade and financial flows between nations, and how all of these are influenced by government monetary and fiscal policy.

At its heart, however, economics is more than a set of questions, but rather is a mode of thought, a set of precise analytical tools that can be used to study a wide variety of social science problems. Students are introduced to these tools in the core methodology courses of Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Econometrics. With these tools in hand, students are then able to study a wide variety of topics including labor-market outcomes, the role of the banking sector, the economics of developing countries, international trade, the role of the public sector and of the political process, economic history, and the study of health and education. In addition, students have the option for advanced methodological study in dynamic optimization, game theory, and econometrics.

American Economic Association
"A Career in Economics is Much More Than You Think"

Much more than finance, banking, business and government, a degree in economics is useful to all individuals and can lead to many interesting career choices. These four diverse individuals offer their insights on how a background in economics can be a tool for solving very human problems.










Economics vs. Business

The field of Economics is often confused with the field of Business --- and although they are related in many ways, they are different areas of study.  At Cornell, students in the College of Arts & Sciences can major in Economics.  A Business major called Applied Economics and Management (AEM) is offered in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (in the Dyson School).

Consistent with the description above, the Economics major focuses on developing a set of analytical tools that can be applied to a broad range of problems.  As such, an Economics major opens doors to many different careers, with a broad curriculum not explicitly directed to providing skills specific to any one career.  In contrast, the Business/AEM major tends to focus on more business-specific skills --- accounting, marketing, finance, management, and human resources and organizational behavior. If you are interested in a career in business, Economics and Business/AEM are both excellent majors (a significant share of Economics majors indeed go into business careers, especially in finance and consulting). There is no clear sense in which one is better than the other, and we typically recommend that students choose the major that better fits their own personal intellectual interests. It should also be noted that the Economics major is housed in the Arts College and the Business/AEM major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, so college specific requirements to graduate will differ, and these should also be considered in finding the right program for you.

For Arts & Sciences students who are interested in both economics and business, you in fact have the option to complete an Economics major while simultaneously completing the university-wide Business minor.  For more information on the latter, see the University-Wide Business minor webpage.

Multiple Majors

Many Economics majors also complete additional majors in other subjects.  There are some majors that naturally complement (and perhaps even overlap with) an Economics major --- e.g., majors in Math, Computer Science, Statistics, Psychology, and Government.  However, it is quite common for students to complete a second major that is completely unrelated to Economics.

If you are considering pursuing multiple majors, please note that in some instances a single course can count toward multiple majors.   For instance, ECON 3370 could count toward both an Economics major and an Asian Studies major, or ECON 4020 could count toward both an Economics major and a Math major.

Course Instructors and Course Sizes

For all Economics classes, the primary instructor will be a Cornell faculty member or a visiting faculty member (i.e., a professor from another institution who is visiting for a semester or more).  In addition, many Economics classes also employ teaching assistants (TAs), who might conduct discussion sections and/or grade homework and exams.

Introductory Economics courses tend to be rather large, with lectures that average 400-450 students, and discussion sections that average 25-30 students.

Core methodology classes (Micro, Macro, Statistics, and Econometrics) have lectures that average 60-90 students and discussion sections that average 30-45 students.

Advanced economics electives vary in size, with many having 30-60 students, some having 60-90 students, and a few run well over 100 students.

Some electives are capped at 25 students to allow our majors to experience smaller classes.


Related Links

Main Office
Department of Economics
404 Uris Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y. 14853
Phone: (607) 255-4254
Fax: (607) 255-2818