How to get into Behavioural Economics



Behavioural Economics has obtained a respected reputation. The 2017 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to Richard Thaler, a behavioral economist. Dan Ariely, another famous behavioural economist, publishes a book a year and sometimes even more than, and all these books have done very well and have been added to the must-read list for BE.

The success of behavioural economics has gone beyond academia. There are 196 government teams (behavioural insight teams) across the world designed with the purpose of using behavioral insights to influence policy. And there are many other companies such as banks and consultancies applying behavioural insights or economics as a general strategy or in subteams. Behavioural economics is hot. But then the question arises: how do you get into it?



Education Most Behavioural Economics programs are rather new. Having only been recently properly recognised and accredited as a field and profession. With regards to undergraduate programs there are not many that allow for this type of specialisation. Most people who want to get into BE will benefit from studying economics or psychology. Within this programs, towards the latter years there should be elective modules in which behavioural economics and marketing (UG economics) and economic psychology or consumer behaviour (UG psychology) can be studied. Either undergraduate will prepare you for further BE education and work. It is possible, however, that some postpraduate programs prefer one UG over the other. As the field is called behavioural economics, some programs will require econometric and specific statistical and/or modelling experience. This is something to keep in mind when progressing. Other options are studying Liberal Arts and Science programs, in which the two fields can already be combined. I have done this myself, and found it an amazing experience and great preparation. But you would have to be rather sure of your direction already to start this to lead to more BE-related education. When it comes to the postgraduate level there are several MSc programs. I have done the MSc in Behavioural and Economic Science at Warwick. The UK is known for providing quite a few different programs, both masters and PhD programs. The UK is hardly the only one. The US, the Netherlands and Germany have a lot of options as well. See a list of programs here. With regards to PhDs, the list provides options as well. Whether you do a PhD, is up to you. It is necessary for accessing the academic track, but for working in BE-associated fields it is not a necessity in itself. There might still be advantages to doing a PhD, but it will also take time away from work experience.


Work

Talking about work, you can get into behavioural economics without educational training that is BE-specific. Otherwise, almost no one above 30 would qualify to do behavioural economics, and the achievements of Kahneman, Tversky, Thaler and Ariely would have been meaningless. But they are not. Thankfully.


As I said before, many people do UGs in economics or psychology, before going into BE-specialised education. But who said you needed that type of education? Many people have had full educations (UG, PG) in exclusively psychology or economics, or even fields such as statistics, data science or business. It is possible these people have had entire careers that are not BE-related at all, before moving towards BE in any capacity. Assuming you are a professional already, you can ask for to help you move in the BE direction. This article suggests that you should approach your manager to sponsor you on a side project that investigates a behaviorally interesting research question, analyzes experimental data or prototypes solutions using behavioral economics principles. If those projects seem to be exactly the direction you want to move into, it might be team to talk to your managers (or supervisors) to options you have within the company itself, or seek out companies that have a stronger BE-focus. Companies that might be of interest could be consultancies such as Irrational Labs, BEWorks, Ideas42 and Kenya’s Busara team. You could also try applying to Behavioural Insight Teams such as the UK’s BIT, although there are now BITs all over the world. On top of this, many other organisations such as the World Bank have announced a focus on behavioral science and there teams are growing. But there are many global players that are increasingly looking towards behavioural insights as well. Companies such as Google, Amazon, Airbnb, Facebook, Uber and other tech giants put in an increasing focus on people with behavioural training who can better intepret the patterns and findings from the data. You do need a certain level of training in data analysis as well, to be able to be accepted in these jobs, but data skills seem to become increasingly incorporated in BE training anyway. Reading

Before making the leap into either the education or jobs associated with behavioural economics, it might be smart to just figure out what behavioural economics looks like. There are many books that can be recommended. Anything by Ariely is a good read for sure. Everyone also recommends Nudge, written by Thaler and Sunstein, or Kahnemans Thinking Fast and Slow. One issue with these type of mainstream books is that they of course only describe the succesful and published research of which the result can easily repeal to the masses. Which does not represent behavioural economics as a science. It does not represent any science. So if you really want an overview of the field, it would be a better idea to read an actual Introductionary textbook, such as the one by Nick Wilkinson. I would also recommend going on to Google Scholar and reading up on the research referenced throughtout any pop. science book you might have read. This gives a much better overview of how the science in itself is conducted, how it is written up and the academic environment surrounding it. Of course not everything comes in book shape. There is many cool blogs out there. I really enjoy the blogs posted by Koenfucius (Koen Smets). He shares a lot of interesting insights, on both his own site, medium and his very active twitter account, which I would also recommend. I would recommend getting active on Twitter anyway, because a lot of BE insights are shared on there, and it is a great (although sometimes overwhelming) way of keeping up! I think these are the best ways of getting into behavioural economics. It does not have to be done through education exclusively, nor do you have to jump ship on your current job to move BE into your (professional) life. There is many ways to do it. And because behavioural economics is such a young field, there is not a set path yet. Maybe also check out the Top 25 Behavioural Economists, this article tells you who they think are leading in the field. You could research them and their paths into BE, and maybe learn something from that.

There are plenty resources out there to show you how you can get into BE, and what you can get out of it!

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