Behavioral Economics Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a behavioral economics graduate program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and Ph.D. and potential careers.
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Behavioral Economics Master's and Ph.D. at a Glance

Those interested in a graduate degree in behavioral economics generally join an economics department and then specialize in their research. It will be important to find a program that has well-respected members of the sub-field of behavioral economics, as they are the ones who will be able to provide guidance and support throughout the learning and research process. Master's programs are most often directly intertwined with the doctoral programs, and students are accepted at these graduate schools only as Ph.D. candidates.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this Degree for? Individuals interested in applying behavioral economics and other economic theory to governmental policy or business decisions Same as master's, plus those who seek to work in academia as professors or economics researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Economist ($91,000)*
- Market research analyst ($60,000)*
In addition to positions associated with master's degree programs:
- University professor of economics ($85,000)*
- Academic administrator ($84,000)*
Time to Completion 1-3 years full time Four or more years
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 6-12 graduate level courses
- Master's-level examination
- Master's thesis or capstone project
- Possible internship
- Portfolio project
- 16 or more graduate-level courses
- Ph.D. qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
- Dissertation defense
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in economics
Significant mathematical background required for some programs
Same as master's degree programs
Online Availability None found at this time Same as master's

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Behavioral Economics

Among the schools that offer a master's degree program and also have the faculty to support a focus on behavioral economics, it is most common for the master's program to be integrated with the Ph.D. program. These programs rarely accept master's-level students, and instead grant these degrees on the way to a Ph.D. or when students fail to complete all requirements for the doctoral candidacy. Other programs are available that offer master's degrees in economics, but most do not have a specialization in behavioral economics subfield.

Pros and Cons


  • Completion of a master's degree in economics takes significantly less time than a Ph.D.
  • While it covers some of the same material, earning a master's degree in economics usually costs less than a Master of Business Administration program.
  • A master's degree in economics may be required for promotions in government-related jobs.


  • Master's degree programs are generally available for those who have earned their undergraduate degree in economics. Those transferring from other disciplines may need to communicate with their prospective departments to determine, and be proactive in fulfilling, requirements.
  • The briefer coursework requirements compared to a Ph.D. may make it more difficult to focus a master's program in economics on a specific area or topic.
  • Students looking to complete master's degrees may not have access to all classes in their area of interest, or may need program or advisor permission to take Ph.D.-level classes.

Common Courses and Requirements

Economics courses in master's programs cover specific topics in some detail. Major areas of economics, such as price theory, income theory and empirical analysis may require multiple courses taken in series. Specific courses such as those in behavioral and experimental economics may be used to flesh out the programs with specializations.

Online Course Info

While some programs that offer coursework for a master's degree in economics are available online, those looking to specialize in behavioral economics are unlikely to find such offerings. The master's degrees offered through online programs are generally more regimented, and do not have specialties in this area.

Stand Out with This Degree

In order to stand out with a master's degree in behavioral economics, students may want to focus on three different goals: finding a programs in which they can study with well-established and published behavioral economists, finding internships that are appropriate for their career goals and developing a capstone project that not only fulfills educational requirements, but also prepares them for either promotion or the job search. Students may benefit from researching faculty during the application process, and contacting them in advance to express interest and determine if the student's goals are congruent with current research at that school.

Degree Alternatives

For students looking at a Master of Arts in Economics program, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is another degree to consider. Students looking to apply economic theory to policy or continue on to a Ph.D. program will want a master's in the field of economics, but for those looking to apply their knowledge directly in the business world, the MBA may be more suited to their needs.

Doctorate in Behavioral Economics

Programs in economics may offer the opportunity for students to focus on the subfield of behavioral economics. Those seeking to specialize in this area should seek out faculty well-published in behavioral economics and supportive programs that can academic growth and topics of research. Behavioral economists may also work with those in other related fields, such as neuroeconomics and marketing.

Pros and Cons


  • A completed Ph.D. in economics with a specialization in behavioral economics prepares candidates to take a role in governmental policy discussions.
  • A doctorate in economics, combined with a solid publishing history, prepares candidates for academic career paths.
  • A Ph.D. in economics is also preparation for research careers.


  • The amount of time spent completing a Ph.D. program in economics with a behavioral economics focus is significant.
  • According to the BLS, positions for economists were expected to grow at a rate below average from 2010-2020 (
  • For those seeking public service, governmental positions were expected to decrease during that time period.

Courses and Requirements

Initial coursework for many Ph.D. programs is very similar to that for master's programs in economics. Doctoral programs then add the coursework for specializations. Courses might include such topics as experimental and behavioral economics, management and decision theory in behavioral economics, and psychological theory as it impacts the economy.

Qualification exams may be required to enter candidacy in Ph.D. programs. After passing these tests, doctoral programs also generally require a dissertation research proposal, a completed dissertation and an oral defense, and may also include teaching requirements.

Online Degree Options

As of August 2012, no online options for earning a Ph.D. in behavioral economics existed. Many candidates who seek these degrees are following an academic career path, or may be mid-career professionals already working for government or non-profit organizations.

Stand out With This Degree

For those seeking a doctoral degree in behavioral economics, standing out may mean taking part in professional organizations such as the American Economics Association ( and seeking grants from foundations that support economics research. Taking part in timely research as well as presenting relevant papers at conferences and seeking to publishing on behavioral economics are also goals that those seeking to excel should consider.