What Economists Do

Economics is about much more than money — though it's about that, too. It's about much more than business, trade and supply chains — but it's also about those.

At its core, economics is about decisions. It's about how people make choices when faced with limited resources, which means it's a discipline with tools that can help solve just about any problem you can think of. Our faculty works on issues as wide ranging as gender equality, drug markets, racism in policing, housing inequality, education policy, how people date, international trade, stock markets and much, much more.

They do it all using the decision-making tools taught in economics, and our department to committed to helping students do the same.

What you can study

Duke's newest economists offer a multifaceted look at real-world problems


In 2022, Duke Econ is adding eight new faculty members with wide-ranging research interests to its already diverse roster of experts.

Ellen Meade and Nelson Sá bring policy chops: Meade joins after a long career in monetary policy work, most recently at the Federal Reserve Board, and Sá specializes in telecommunications policy.

Laura Pilossoph and Gregor Jarosch turn their attention to social issues like the impact of social distancing and discrimination against the unemployed.

Drugs are also a topic of economic research in the hands of Jeffrey DeSimone, who looks at the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse, and Emily Cuddy, who studies the prescription drug market, especially as it relates to adolescent mental health.

Lastly, Anna Bykhovskaya and Michael Pollmann utilize advanced mathematics to better analyze data, including long-run stock price changes for the former and collaborations with other researchers for the latter.

School funding

Jason Baron is looking at the impacts of additional K-12 public school funding on the academic outcomes of students. “I firmly believe that public policy debates should be based on empirical evidence. Public policy directly impacts people’s lives, and particularly the lives of underserved children,” he says.

Read about Baron

Gender gaps

Pengpeng Xiao is a labor economist studying how men and women behave in the workplace after they become parents and how employers make hiring decisions as a result. “Women have long overtaken men in education attainment in the United States, and it might not be economically efficient to have over half of the educated population under-utilized or mismatched,” she says.

Read about Xiao

Intersections of crime and labor

Bocar Ba brings data to crime and policing debates, looking at the impact of citizen complaints about officers and the racial and ethnic diversity of a police force. "I tried to answer my questions without having to be guided by all the politics,” he says.

Read about Ba

Why Rachel Kranton Chose Economics

Understanding Ideologies

Underlying many current debates about social and economic policy are three fundamental worldviews, imperfectly captured by the labels conservatism, liberalism and progressivism/socialism.

Because economic ideas are at the center of these debates, understanding economic history provides essential insights into broader political history. Liberalism and Its Critics, a new Economics course created as part of the Transformative Ideas program, provides a helpful example.

Combining economics and political science to study the development of liberalism in its various instantiations through time, this course examines the arguments of its critics and their various interactions in order to gain a better understanding of all three traditions.

Learn More About Transformative Ideas

How to find your path

Engage in research

What's the DEAL?

In fall 2022, Duke Econ is launching another new student experience: the Duke Economic Analytics Laboratory.

A new lab connecting students with first-hand how research experiences, DEAL allows undergrads to not only work directly with faculty on real-world problems, but also to do research alongside master's and doctoral students, as well as their undergraduate peers.

“Our goal is to help our students find their voice and develop the skills that will lay the foundation for future successes in finance, business, science, policy or elsewhere,” said Norb F. Schaefer Distinguished Professor Duncan Thomas.

Read more about DEAL Find out how to get involved

Take a course

Not yesterday's Econ 101

Econ 101 had a bit of a glow-up last year.

The introductory course, which typically focused on how costs and benefits are traded off in business environments, is evolving to expand students’ views of what economics is.

Professor Thomas Nechyba, who taught the class in spring 2022, explained the changes:

“Economics is a science that investigates the consequences of choices we make in all walks of life — because all choices involve costs and benefits even if those aren’t always expressed in money terms,” he said. “The way I teach it now allows students to develop the sense that economics is a science that aims at an improved understanding of the world around us.”

Read about the new Econ 101

Choose a mentor

A guide through economics

In 2021, Duke Econ launched a new mentorship program. Designed to help students explore the subfields of economics, it pairs undergraduates with a faculty mentor who specializes in an area of interest.

“The hope is that students will be able to gain a richer sense of how we in the department use economics — to develop new theories, better understand how the economy works, advance policy debates, et cetera,” said Professor Christopher Timmins, director of EcoTeach.

“Ideally, there will be discussions about the work that the mentors (and their graduate students) are doing, giving the economics majors a better sense of the wide variety of topics that fall under the heading of economics.”

Read more about the program Start your mentor search

A TA and a failed quiz changed Timur Kuran's life

Gorter Family Distinguished Professor Timur Kuran was a college freshman planning to become a chemical engineer when he took Econ 101.

He failed a quiz in that class, but in the process he found a mentor in his TA — now a famous economist — who changed the way Kuran thought about incentives and tradeoffs.

The insight sparked a whole new career path.

Read the full story