Economics provides a framework for understanding human behavior: the decisions made by individuals, firms, and governments attempting to satisfy their preferences and objectives as well as possible, while facing constraints of different kinds.

Economists study human behavior in a wide variety of settings, including but not limited to “the economy.” The tools of economics can be applied to public policy in areas as disparate as the environment, the family, and the legal system. The ultimate goal of the discipline of economics is to contribute to the improvement of social well-being (“The Common Good”).

The Department of Economics at Bowdoin College seeks to introduce students to the basic concepts of the discipline, then teach the field’s fundamental theoretical (modeling – often, but not always, math-based) and empirical (data) techniques and findings. We aim to develop the ability of students to apply economic thinking to social and pecuniary problems of all kinds, public and private. Our department is committed to inclusion and diversity, and to doing our best to support the needs of all Bowdoin students: those who want to go on as economic analysts, as well as those who want to incorporate the perspective of economics into other fields and their everyday lives. 

Early courses in economics strive to teach “economic literacy:” the language of economics and the ability to conduct basic economic analysis. These courses cover tradeoffs associated with different actions, the way people respond to incentives, and the role of government in addressing the outcomes of markets when they are not ideal. Importantly, thinking like an economist is non-partisan: one can use the tools of economics regardless of one’s background, political orientation, or preferred policy outcome. 

After gaining an understanding of basic tools, students can go on to elective courses that apply these tools in more detail to different types of problems. Here is a partial list of the wide variety of topics we’ve offered elective courses on in recent years:

Environmental & natural resource economics
Labor economics
Game theory
Behavioral economics
Finance and financial markets
Urban economics
Health economics
Business cycles
Public finance

Economic history
Poverty & economic development
International trade & finance
Economic statistics (“econometrics”)
History of economic thought
Economics of technology
Demographic economics
Law and economics
Sports economics

Many people think economics uses advanced mathematics. This is sometimes true — but certainly not always, and in fact it's not usually the case for our classes. Economists do often use math and numbers to clarify ideas and express them precisely, but the math in college economics classes is usually pre-calculus math you've learned in high school and middle school. We strongly believe that the math used in our economics courses is well within all Bowdoin students’ grasp, and we provide some extra help in getting people up to speed.

Please let us know (drop by or email our chair, Erik Nelson, enelson2@bowdoin.edu) if you have any questions about economics at Bowdoin!

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