Accounting and economics may seem like similar fields – and yes, they are closely related. But each discipline has its distinct differences, from the curriculum required for each degree, to the jobs you’ll qualify for after earning one. Prospective students who are interested in careers in accounting or economics should explore each field to learn how they compare.
Accounting and Economics Defined
Accounting refers to a system of recording, analyzing and reporting an organization’s financial transactions. Proper and strategic accounting is vital to the success and sustainability of businesses of all sizes and in every industry. Nonprofit organizations and public agencies also require careful accounting to guide operations and keep cash flows healthy.
In comparison, economics is a social science, divided into two areas of study: macroeconomics, or the study of how goods and services are produced and distributed across an economy; and microeconomics, which focuses on individual behavior regarding the use of capital, time, tools and other resources.
Accounting professionals use a variety of tools to track and analyze budgets, expenses, revenue and financial-related business activities. Their expertise can assist management in making sound decisions, based on past and present data. Accounting offers many opportunities for challenging and rewarding careers.
Studying economics provides an understanding of how economic choices and decisions affect society at large, and can also help guide business decisions. From tax policy and healthcare reform, to the national debt, economists are involved in the big issues of our time. Compared to accountants, economists are more focused on broader financial questions over longer periods of time.
Degrees in Accounting and Economics
Students pursuing a degree in accounting will participate in a similar core curriculum as those pursuing a degree in economics. Problem-solving, analytical and quantitative skills are developed through foundational courses in mathematics, political science or government, communication, life science, and social sciences.
Accounting majors then gain more focused knowledge through coursework like financial reporting, accounting ethics, internal auditing, income tax, international accounting and strategic management.
Economics majors will typically be required to take classes in managerial economics, micro economic theory, macroeconomic theory, economic development and financial accounting.
Electives might include game theory, economics of arts and culture, or international trade.
Careers in Accounting
A degree in accounting or a related field is usually required for the following careers:
- Accountants and auditors: Accountants and auditors examine financial statements, analyze data and maintain financial records. They also prepare tax returns and make recommendations to businesses regarding financial operations. They may work as public accountants, corporate accountants, government accountants or internal auditors.
To enhance job opportunities, many choose to become Certified Public Accountants. Becoming a CPA requires passing a four-part national examination, and in most states, completing 150 semester hours of college coursework (compared to 120 hours for typical bachelor’s degrees). The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a steady 13% growth in employment in this category by 2022.
- Financial analyst: Financial analysts often work for financial and insurance companies, banks and insecurities brokerages, as portfolio managers, fund managers or ratings analysts. They evaluate current and historical data, and study economic trends to advise businesses and individuals about investments. Buy-side analysts help companies invest money, while sell-side analysts advice those who are selling stocks, bonds and other investments. The BLS projects 16% growth in employment in this category by 2022.
- Tax Examiner: Tax examiners work for local or federal agencies, dealing with individual and corporate tax returns. They may review and process tax returns, investigate overdue accounts, and conduct audits. They ensure tax revenues are properly collected from citizens and businesses.
Careers in Economics
A degree in economics can lead to careers such as:
- Management analyst: Management analysts are projected to be in high demand in coming years, as the BLS projects these jobs to grow by 19% through 2022. Management analysts improve organizational efficiency by analyzing problems and developing plans to solve them. They may recommend alternative practices, new procedures or organization changes.
- Budget Analyst: Budget analysts work with private and public organizations to safeguard their finances and monitor spending. They develop budgets, ensure compliance with procedures and regulations, and make recommendations to management. The BLS projects steady growth for budget analyst jobs in the coming years.
- Financial examiners: Financial examiners monitor banks and other financial institutions’ financial health, by reviewing their balance sheets, loan documentation, and assets and liabilities. They specialize either in risk scoping or in consumer compliance. Financial examiners are often employed by the federal or state governments and other agencies. The BLS also projects steady job growth for financial examiners through 2022.
Accounting or Economics? The Choice is Yours.
Economics and accounting degrees are required for a number of in-demand jobs in government, education, business and nonprofit organizations. Regardless of which discipline better suits your interests, enrolling in an economics or accounting degree program will develop the analytical, mathematical, critical thinking and communication skills to help you compete for jobs in today’s complex global business environment.