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PhD in Economics

Offering a combination of rigorous technical training and a focus on policy-relevant research, our PhD in Economics will prepare you for careers in academics, research, and government. Our students master economic theory, statistical methods, and applied field knowledge. Then, through the dissertation-writing process, they develop the ability to formulate and empirically answer economic questions.

Our uniquely pluralistic approach to economics incorporates diverse theoretical perspectives, both mainstream and heterodox, including post-Keynesian, institutionalist, evolutionary, and feminist economics.

Our department is the first in the nation to offer a program on gender analysis in economics and hosts a unique Info-Metrics Institute promoting the interdisciplinary study of information, information processing, and decision rules based on efficient use of information. Our forward-thinking program will put you on the cutting edge of economic analysis.

The Department of Economics at American University has partnered with EAFIT University in Medellin, Colombia, to permit the exchange of advanced PhD students seeking to collaborate on dissertation research with faculty at the partner institution.

This program is designated as a STEM degree program.

Tailor Your Degree to Your Career

Our students develop a solid foundation in economic thought, mathematical economics, macroeconomic and microeconomic analysis, and econometrics and a focus in two empirical fields. Students write a Third Year Paper which prepares them for dissertation work.

Your research opportunities are enhanced by the department’s broad array of strengths, including development economics, international economics, labor economics, monetary economics, gender economics, comparative economic systems, economic history, econometrics and Info-Metrics. PhD students develop lasting, collegial, and productive relationships with faculty, classmates and economists at DC-area institutionals, often co-authoring and publishing papers with these colleagues. 

See complete Admissions and Program Requirements.

Faculty Dedicated to Your Success

At AU, you will take classes from and work with a diverse group of esteemed economists and highly cited scholars who are engaged with practitioners and policymakers around the world. Their wide-ranging research and publications, along with the variety of methodological approaches they use, create a rich environment for innovations in theory and empirical studies. By working as research assistants and teaching assistants, PhD students gain valuable experience and mentorship in an academic setting.

Make a Difference in Your Career and the World

The extraordinary array of intellectual and professional opportunities offered by the nation's capital make American University the ideal place to study economics. The department's strategic partnerships and our faculty's relationships with nearby institutions will help you make the best use of those opportunities. Consistently ranked as one of the best cities for job seekers, Washington, DC, provides an opportunity for students and graduates to obtain internships and employment with some of the world's most important economic institutions, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, research institutes, think tanks, NGOs, nationally recognized private companies, and the US Departments of the Treasury, Labor, and Commerce.

Economics PhD graduates are well qualified for academic careers, but the degree also opens career paths in many government agencies and international organizations. Our students receive career mentorship and placement services that lead to careers in public policy, academia, and government, both domestically and abroad.

Many of our graduates go on to academic posts at universities such as the Saint Louis University, the University of Vermont, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and Franklin College. Domestically, graduates have served in congress and government agencies, including the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Labor. Our alumni working outside of the US have gone on to found research institutions and consult for major organizations such as CGIAR-CIP and the United Nations.

News and Notes

  • Professor Maria Floro told Business Insider that without a bailout for the childcare industry, women will take a step back in participation in the workforce.
  • Professor Gabriel Mathy spoke to The Wall Street Journal about how the pandemic-caused recession has impacted Latino workers.

Student Spotlights

Aina Krupinski Puig

PhD Candidate, Economics
Aina K. Puig, AU doctoral candidate in Economics.

San Francisco Federal Reserve Board’s essay contest called for papers studying economic impacts of gender and racial inequalities. As a winner, Aina’s paper will be published in the Federal Reserve Board’s Economic Letter and will have the opportunity to participate in a 6-week summer research program.

Aina’s paper focused on the impact of monetary policy, through interest rates, on spending patterns among types of U.S. households—those with mortgages, those with women versus men as head of household, and those headed by White versus Black people. By building on her interest in macroeconomic inequality topics with direct policy implications, she intended (and continues to intend) to fill a gap in the literature, adding to the income inequality narrative by bringing gender and racial inequalities to the forefront of discussion.

Through this project, she was able to not only establish the impact of monetary policy shocks on consumption patterns, but also inform the Federal Reserve Board of these distributional impacts. When discussing her research, Aina states that “promoting equal opportunity and understanding the different impacts of policies can help policymakers create policies that promote economic growth while benefitting all groups’ well-being in society.”

Her interest in analyzing inequality topics through lens of distributional effects of macroeconomic policies came to life during her research for this paper and “ties directly into [her] plans for [her] dissertation…, a good starting point for [her] future research.”

Vasudeva Ramaswamy

PhD Candidate, Economics
Picture of Vasudeva Ramaswamy

Economics PhD candidate Vasudeva Ramaswamy credits American University with helping him zero in on his area of research interest and for equipping him with the tools to explore and contribute to his field. 

During his time at AU, Vasu spent two summers working with the World Bank, studying the impact of agricultural aggregators in East Africa — specifically, how they provided income and security to farmer communities. 

Vasu’s dissertation considers the effects of the Federal Reserve Bank’s actions on household inequality. Who gains and who loses when the Fed increases (or decreases) interest rates? And how do these effects propagate through the economy? Because business income and profits play a key role in household inequality, Vasu looks at how businesses respond to the actions of the Fed. 

After he earns his PhD, Vasu says he would love to be able to continue researching the importance of economic heterogeneity in monetary policy transmission. “I am particularly grateful for AU’s faculty, who are leading experts in their field and approachable and encouraging as mentors,” he adds. “I am equally grateful for the rest of my PhD cohort, who are a brilliant and motivated group. I am learning from them continually.”

Elissa Cohen

PhD Candidate, Economics Elissa Cohen

Economics PhD candidate Elissa Cohen received an NSF grant to pursue her research about assumptions people make about risk and, building off an idea from a previous project, Elissa continues her interest in the Value of Statistical Life in this one to question the validity of how VSL is used and estimated. In doing so, she contributes to development of a more complete theory of how perceptions of risk guide decision making.

Elissa asks three questions: (1) Is the construct validity of the VSL consistent across measurement approaches? (2) Do people value the mitigation of varying types of fatality risk differently across domains? (3) Do people accurately comprehend the probability of death in a given setting?

To answer these questions, Elissa uses discrete choice experimental (DCE) designs, self-report surveys, and machine learning techniques to evaluate the validity of the VSL as an assessment how people’s risk assessment shapes behavior.

This research improves the understanding of how people perceive fatality risk across domains and how perceptions impact choices about risk exposure. With this research comes the potential to reshape how regulatory agencies construct their aggregated VSL estimates for future cost-benefit analyses, influencing policy decisions and allocation of scarce federal resources.

As she thinks about impact and the research space she can contribute to and develop, Elissa comments, “AU has definitely helped me refine the types of questions I am interested in answering…. I see myself continuing to explore and test feedback loops between emergent human behaviors and macro-level policy decision-making.”

Amy Burnett Cross

PhD Candidate, EconomicsAmy Burnett Cross

Amy Burnett Cross has been selected as one of the three NBER Pre-Doctoral Fellows in the Gender in the Economy program to support her dissertation research on the influence of military policy on the sorting of women into occupations. Through this research, she is able to include her knowledge from AU’s Program on Gender Analysis in Economics as well as her understanding that by bringing more insight from conservative institutions into her research realm, she could enhance the policy space of gender equity.

As she continues her career, Amy desires to conduct research that is directly applicable to policymakers, and through her research on this project, Amy has the chance to do this in addition to engaging with economic history and begin to invest more time in the historical arc of military policy and gender dynamics.

She has three focuses for her dissertation project: (1) evaluate the impact of lifting the ban on women in combat (in 2013) on civilian occupational desegregation; (2) measure the extent to which gender desegregation of the Army (in 1977) signaled a shift in the appropriate role of civilian women at work; and (3) assess whether the structure of the U.S. draft in WWI (in 1917) contributed to the development of the male breadwinner norm.

Amy’s work aims to provide evidence that policy changes can influence social norms constraining women’s work and occupational segregation, particularly in discovering how policies regarding women’s participation in the military go on to influence gender gaps in civilian labor market outcomes. In doing so, Amy also seeks to contribute to the research of information asymmetry as a cause for occupational segregation—does military gender desegregation function as a reduction of information asymmetry?

With the support and accommodation of her peers, professors, and advisor, Mary E. Hansen, Amy has been able to focus on her academic excellence and develop close friendships and bonds during her journey at AU. In discussing her work in gender economics and the community at American University, Amy offered, “AU attracts women economists and I have found some truly excellent ones here.”