Economics

Economics is a social science that is at once very 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.

Requirements: 6 half-courses

  1. Social Analysis 10: Principles of Economics (2 half-courses).

  2. All students are required to take Social Analysis 10, the full-year introduction to current economic issues and to basic economic principles and methods.

    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 secondary field. 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 2 EC electives. Consult the department handbook or a concentration adviser for details.

    Students who have other credentials that potentially qualify them for Advanced Standing should consult with the director of undergraduate studies, the undergraduate program administrator, or an economics concentration adviser.

  3. One half-course from:

    • Economics 1010a/1011a: Microeconomic Theory

    • Economics 1010b/1011b: Macroeconomic Theory

    These intermediate theory courses teach the analytical tools that economists use. The 1011 courses assume a background in multivariate calculus whereas the 1010 courses have a prerequisite of single variable calculus. A minimum grade of B- is required.

  4. Three half-courses from the Economics chapter of Courses of Instruction.

  5. All Economics courses and cross-listed courses in the department are eligible, except for Economics 910r: Supervised Reading and Research, Economics 970: Sophomore Tutorial, Economics 975: Tutorial-Theory Review, the senior thesis seminars/tutorials (Economics 985 and Economics 990), and graduate-level research seminars and workshops. In particular, taking both 1010a/1011a and 1010b/1011b meets requirement 2 above, as well as one of the three half-course requirements under 3.

    In contrast to students who are concentrating in Economics, there is no requirement to take economics courses that fulfill a writing requirement or that have intermediate theory as a prerequisite.

Other Information

All courses counting for secondary field credit must be taken for a letter grade.

Courses given in other FAS departments or other Harvard faculties may not be used for credit in the secondary field, unless they are explicitly cross-listed or jointly-listed in the Economics chapter of Courses of Instruction. The only exception is that one of Statistics 100, 104, or 110; Engineering Sciences 101; or Math 191 can qualify as one of the three half-courses under requirement 3.

Only the following Harvard Summer School courses may be used for credit in the secondary field: ECON S-10ab: Principles of Economics; ECON S-10a: Principles of Economics: Microeconomics; ECON S-10b: Principles of Economics: Macroeconomics.

Courses from study abroad may not be used for credit in the secondary field. Freshmen Seminars may not be used for credit in the secondary field.

Please note: Students pursuing a secondary field in Economics are not given preferential access to limited enrollment courses.

Advising Resources and Expectations

Students may visit the concentration advisers in the Economics undergraduate advising office in Littauer 111 from 10am-4pm Monday-Friday for advice about the program and course selection. The undergraduate program administrator, Emily Neill (eneill@fas.harvard.edu; 617-495-3247), is also available for general inquiries. The undergraduate program administrator must sign the final form for secondary field credit.