Economics

Professor Jeffrey Miron, Director of Undergraduate Studies

Economics is a social science that is at once broad in its subject matter and unified in its approach to understanding the social world. An economic analysis begins from the premise that individuals have goals and that they pursue those goals as best they can. Economics studies the behavior of social systems—such as markets, corporations, legislatures, and families—as the outcome of interactions through institutions between goal-directed individuals. Ultimately, economists make policy recommendations that they believe will make people better off.

Traditionally, economics has focused on understanding prices, competitive markets, and the interactions between markets. Important topics such as monopolies and antitrust, income inequality, economic growth, and the business cycle continue to be central areas of inquiry in economics. Recently, though, the subject matter of economics has broadened so that economists today address a remarkable variety of social science questions. Will school vouchers improve the quality of education? Do politicians manipulate the business cycle? What sort of legal regime best promotes economic development? Why do cities have ghettos? What can be done about grade inflation? Why do people procrastinate in saving for retirement—or in doing their homework?

In understanding what economics is, it is crucial to keep in mind that economics today is a scientific discipline. Bringing their particular perspective to the questions of social science, economists formulate theories and collect evidence to test these theories against alternative ideas. Doing economic research involves asking questions about the social world and addressing those questions with data and clear-headed logic, employing mathematical and statistical tools whenever possible to aid the analysis. An undergraduate education in economics focuses on learning to analyze the world in terms of tradeoffs and incentives—that is, to think like an economist.

Students concentrating in economics begin, ordinarily, in their freshman year, with Social Analysis 10, the full-year introductory course in economics. Because marginal conditions hold a central place among economists' analytical tools, prospective economics concentrators who have not already covered the material in high school should also enroll in the first term of calculus, a prerequisite for the next level of required courses. Students who have already covered this material may choose to continue their study of mathematics in order to prepare for courses that assume familiarity with more advanced topics in mathematics or for graduate study in economics.

Concentrators ordinarily take four or five half-courses related to economics in their sophomore year. Two half-courses make up the intermediate theory sequence: one of 1010a or 1011a, Microeconomic Theory, and one of 1010b or 1011b, Macroeconomic Theory. These courses teach the analytical tools that economists use. The 1011 sequence assumes a more advanced background in mathematics than the 1010 sequence. Sophomores are also advised to take an introduction to statistics: the ability to interpret quantitative data and to understand statistical arguments is essential to understanding the economy. The fourth half-course taken in the sophomore year is Economics 970, the sophomore tutorial taught in small groups of about eight to ten students. The sophomore tutorial is an intensive experience aimed at helping concentrators develop the ability to present economic arguments both orally and in writing. Because the economics department has a very large number of concentrators, even upper-level courses can be large in size; thus the tutorial provides a key opportunity for small-group “active learning.” Finally, some students choose to fulfill the econometrics requirement (Economics 1123 or 1126) in the sophomore year, although many students wait until the junior year.

Beyond these foundational courses, all concentrators are required to take at least three additional half-courses in the economics department. Honors candidates can choose either to write a senior thesis or to take advanced coursework beyond these three half-courses. The specific requirements are listed below.

In recent years, approximately thirty percent of Economics concentrators have chosen to write a senior thesis. Senior thesis topics usually spring from a question of interest first raised in a field course. Students are therefore strongly advised to take courses before their senior year in areas in which they might want to write their theses. Many theses have subsequently been published in some form. The economics department encourages all students to think seriously about writing a thesis, as the thesis experience can be a useful capstone to four years of study. However, concentrators may still be recommended for Honors in Economics (as opposed to High Honors or Highest Honors) without writing a thesis by participating in the concentration’s advanced course track.

Undergraduates are welcome in graduate courses and often do well in them. Because coverage of the professional literature is a primary objective of such courses, they are, as a rule, very demanding and time-consuming for undergraduates.

A more complete description of the economics department and its requirements can be found in the handbook, Undergraduate Economics at Harvard: A Guide for Concentrators, available on our website.

REQUIREMENTS

For students entering the College in Fall 2007 or later.
Other students should refer to the Handbook for Students from the year in which they declared their concentration.

Basic Requirements: 10 half-courses

  1. Mathematical preparation: Mathematics 1a or equivalent. Students who have not taken Mathematics 1a or received placement by the Mathematics Department beyond 1a should consult the Economics Undergraduate Office. Students who wish to take Economics 1011a or 1011b must have completed Mathematics 21a.

  2. Required courses:

    1. Social Analysis 10. Students in the classes of 2010 or earlier may use Economics AP scores of 5, A Levels, or IB scores of 7 to count for Social Analysis 10 and thereby reduce the number of required courses to complete the concentration. Students in the classes of 2011 and beyond may use AP or IB scores to place into 1010a, 1011a, 1010b, and 1011b, but they must replace Social Analysis 10 with two economics electives. Consult the department handbook or a concentration adviser for details.

    2. Economics 970.

    3. Statistics 100, 104, or 110; or Math 191.

    4. Economics 1010a or 1011a.

    5. Economics 1010b or 1011b.

    6. Economics 1123 or 1126.

    7. Three additional half-courses in economics that include:

      1. one half-course that satisfies the writing requirement (see item 6a).

      2. one half-course that has Economics 1010a, 1010b, 1011a, or 1011b as prerequisite.

      3. Many courses satisfy both requirements simultaneously.

  3. Tutorials (all letter-graded):

    1. Sophomore Tutorial: Economics 970 (one term) required.

    2. Theory Review: Economics 975 (one term) is required of students who receive less than a B-/C+ average (that is, a 2.5 grade point average) for the two intermediate theory courses combined. This tutorial does not count toward the three half-courses required in item 2g.

  4. Thesis: None.

  5. General Examination: None.

  6. Other information:

    1. Writing Requirement: A list of courses that satisfy the writing requirement is available from the Undergraduate Office and online.

    2. Pass/Fail: Concentrators may take one full or two half-courses Pass/Fail, except for those courses used to fulfill items 2a–f of the required courses and for tutorials.

    3. Joint Concentrations: Ordinarily, the economics department does not participate in joint concentrations.

Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 12 half-courses

  1. Mathematical preparation: Same as Basic Requirements.

  2. Required courses:
  3.       a-g. Same as Basic Requirements.

    1. Either Economics 985 (two terms) or 990 (two terms) and completion of a thesis; or the advanced course track (2 half-courses). See item 6d.

  4. Tutorials (All letter-graded):

  5.     a-c. Same as Basic Requirements.

    1. Senior year: Students who elect to write a thesis enroll in Economics 985 (two terms) or Economics 990 (two terms). Economics 990 is usually reserved for students who are completing their theses in the fall term.

  6. Thesis: Required for a recommendation for High or Highest Honors in Field. See item 6d.

  7. General Examination: In the spring term of their senior year, all honors candidates write a general examination covering microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics.

  8. Other information:

  9.     a-c. Same as Basic Requirements.

    1. In order to be considered for a High or Highest Honors recommendation in Economics, a student must complete a thesis. In order to be considered for an Honors recommendation in Economics, a student has two options:

      1. Successful completion of a thesis: Thesis writers receive credit for two terms of Economics 985 or 990.

      2. Completion of the advanced course track: Two additional half-courses in economics, beyond the three half-courses that are required under item 2g. Within this total of five half-courses, the student must satisfy the requirements of item 2g plus an additional half-course that has Economics 1010a, 1010b, 1011a, or 1011b as a prerequisite and an additional half-course that satisfies the writing requirement.

    2. A document explaining how the Department of Economics calculates honors recommendations is available from the Undergraduate Office.

    3. Joint Concentrations: Ordinarily, the economics department does not participate in joint concentrations.

ADVISING

All students interested in economics (freshmen and sophomores, economics concentrators, and concentrators in other fields) are encouraged to come to the Economics Undergraduate Office, located on the first floor of Littauer Center, for information and advice about economics courses and the Economics concentration. The office is headed by one faculty member—the director of undergraduate studies—and by Emily Neill, the undergraduate program administrator. Concentration advisers are available at the Undergraduate Office on a walk-in basis, from 10am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. The advisers are graduate students in the economics department who have been trained to respond to the questions and concerns of undergraduate concentrators. They can sign plans of study, study cards, add/drop forms, and so on. More importantly, they can explain department requirements, discuss students’ academic interests, offer advice on course choices, and discuss future plans, such as graduate or professional school.

Each concentrator also has an assigned adviser. Students will hear from their concentration adviser periodically, to inform them of office hours, important deadlines, meetings, and requirements. Students may, at any time, contact their concentration adviser for help or for information. While students have assigned concentration advisers, they are welcome to seek advice from any of the advisers who staff the walk-in advising hours at the Economics Undergraduate Office.

For up-to-date information on advising in Economics, please see the Advising Programs Office website.

RESOURCES

Harvard Institute for Economic Research.

STUDY ABROAD

The Economics Department permits study abroad for a term or an academic year. It is generally best for students to study abroad during their junior year. Students may earn concentration credit for up to 1 course per term abroad.  Students may postpone Economics 970 (Sophomore Tutorial) if they choose to go during their sophomore year.

After choosing a university and obtaining College approval for planned courses from the Office of International Programs, the student should make an appointment with their adviser and bring course syllabi to the meeting. The adviser will grant credit toward fulfilling Economics concentration requirements for appropriate courses (although some students choose not to fulfill Economics concentration requirements while abroad). To count for concentration credit, a course must be primarily economic in content and methodology and roughly equivalent in difficulty to a Harvard economics department course. Courses with an intermediate theory prerequisite may count toward the theory prerequisite requirement. Students who write a paper longer than 15 pages for a course should submit the graded paper to their economics adviser, who may grant writing requirement credit for the course if the paper has substantial economic content.

HOW TO FIND OUT MORE

Additional information is available from the Economics Undergraduate Office in Littauer Center. Office hours are Monday through Friday 10 am – 4 pm. The undergraduate program administrator can be reached at 617-495-3247. The concentration advisers are available at 617-495-3290. A more complete description of the economics department and its requirements can be found in the handbook, Undergraduate Economics at Harvard: A Guide for Concentrators, available on our website.

CORE AND GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS

Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

Foreign Cultures

Historical Study A

Historical Study B

Quantitative Reasoning

†Literature and Arts A

Social Analysis

Literature and Arts B

ONE of the areas marked †.

†Literature and Arts C

 

Moral Reasoning

 

Science A

 

Science B

 

For more information on fulfilling the Core requirement, see the Core Curriculum Requirement.

All students—regardless of concentration—planning to graduate under the requirements of the Program in General Education must complete one letter-graded course in each of the eight categories in General Education. The Class of 2013 is the first to enter the College under these requirements. Students who entered Harvard College in September 2008 or earlier are expected to fulfill the requirements of the Core Curriculum, but will be permitted to switch to the Program in General Education if such a change is possible and advisable given their overall schedule and plan of study. For more information on the requirements of the Program in General Education and the possibility of switching to it, please see The Program in General Education in Chapter 2 and the General Education website.

ENROLLMENT STATISTICS

Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

Economics

686

686

733

769

742

Economics + another field

39

40

37

22

17

Another field + Economics

33

38

43

27

8