Behind the Numbers: Mathematics vs. Economics Degree

The influence of mathematics and economics is wide-ranging, often changing companies and even entire industries. If you love working with numbers, are data-driven, and enjoy finding creative solutions to real-world problems, either professional path may prove rewarding.

Economics professionals working on a project.

Mathematics and economics degrees overlap in many ways that students may find exciting. In fact, many economic theories stem from mathematical models. While each of these important disciplines emphasizes data collection, analysis, and solutions-driven applications, there are some vital points where these two degrees — and their corresponding careers — diverge.

If you are comparing a mathematics vs. economics degree, you should understand these differences.

Mathematics Overview

From the software code used by computers to the geometry of the cylinders in our cars, math is all around us. Math informs many aspects of our lives — including architecture, engineering, finance, and even sports. Undergraduate degree programs in mathematics, such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, lay a foundation for both applied and theoretical mathematical pursuits.

The curriculum in a mathematics program at this level includes classwork in calculus and probability, an emphasis on data science, and elective classes that cover topics such as optimization and financial mathematics.

What Do Mathematics Graduates Do?

Imagine standing in front of a classroom, teaching young learners about algebra in everyday life. Or perhaps you’re interested in organizing and interpreting statistics on employment, population health, and demographics to create official data for local or national government. Maybe you’re inspired by the thought of helping businesses optimize their web presence through data-driven approaches. Each of these opportunities — including teaching, statistics, and digital analysis — represent just some of the jobs that are open to graduates of mathematics programs.

Types of Careers

  • Teacher: In this role, educators bring math to life. They create lesson plans and deliver general or specialized math education to students at the elementary, middle, or high school level.
  • Digital Analyst: Analyzing, quantifying, and reporting on web analytics, these professionals interpret data to give businesses insights on how to leverage their digital presence — an increasingly important element of business.
  • Statistician: These professionals work with data, models, and formulas to solve problems in business, healthcare, and engineering, among other fields.

Economics Overview

Economics is more than just the study of money. With connections to politics, finance, business operations, market analysis, and research, the field of economics offers many professional possibilities for interested students. Comparing coursework in an economics degree vs. a mathematics degree reveals a specific focus on theory, including the study of law and ethics, and both micro and macroeconomic theory.

What Do Economics Graduates Do?

Economics graduates develop keen analytical and critical-thinking skills that apply to many different occupations. Their mastery of data and the ability to look at the big picture, identify trends and make connections enable them to offer insights in industries such as banking, business, healthcare, and government. Jobs that take full advantage of the skills of economic majors go well beyond the basic title of “economist.”

Types of Careers

  • Compensation and Benefits Manager: In this role, workers study supply and demand in the workforce and evaluate options for pay and benefits at large companies, ensuring that businesses attract the best talent.
  • Financial Analyst: Often incorporating computer programs and modeling to glean relevant information, financial analysts research and analyze data to guide business decisions about investments, stock and bond offerings, acquisitions, and other financial matters.
  • Market Research Analyst: These professionals assess how products and services perform under current and hypothetical economic conditions.

Similarities Between Mathematics and Economics Degrees

Both mathematics and economics rely on an understanding of numbers and an ability to work with a range of mathematical principles and strategies to discover and interpret information. Both fields prize analytic and problem-solving abilities, which lead to solutions for business, industry, government, and beyond. Many economics and mathematics experts may also find work in research-oriented private businesses or universities where they use modeling, predictive math, and data interpretation.

Differences Between Mathematics vs. Economics Degrees

While there is overlap in the talents, abilities, and pursuits of both mathematics and economics majors, there are plenty of differences too. Among these are differences in the curriculum itself, as well as the philosophies of the disciplines and their professional applications.

The Curriculum

Mathematics curriculum has far fewer connections to social sciences than economics. During an undergraduate study of mathematics, students focus on the study of key math operations such as calculus, algebra, probability, and differential equations. On the other hand, economists study some mathematics during their undergraduate tenure, but their core classes consist of economic theory, research, and public policy analysis.

Theory and Application

While some bachelor’s degrees in mathematics offer classes in the theory of mathematics, more often than not the undergraduate curriculum focuses on practical math strategies and their real-world applications. Meanwhile, economics coursework is very much rooted in philosophy. Economic theory, while still possessing practical applications, focuses less on following a step-by-step strategy to reach a solution and more on abstract concepts.

Post-Graduation Career Opportunities

Economics degrees often lead to employment in financial sectors, exploring the costs and benefits of all sorts of modes of production, benefits packages, investments, and financial decisions. Similar to mathematics majors, economics majors often work with numbers and large data sets, but they typically apply these to jobs in market research, financial analysis, as actuaries, or in the health insurance industry.

Mathematicians, on the other hand, tend to focus on statistics, data science, and other fields that involve a direct application of mathematical principles. They can apply their skills to engineering, computer science, business, or manufacturing.

Mathematics vs. Economics Degrees: Which Is Right for You?

Numbers essentially drive our modern world, from the stock market ticker on the television screen to our daily exchanges of cash at the supermarket. If you seek a number- and data-focused career that can help solve the problems of individuals, businesses, industries, and even economies, both economics and mathematics are viable options.

Weighing mathematics vs. economics degrees means identifying how you like to work and where you’d like to apply your knowledge after graduation. If you thrive on theory, economics might be the approach for you. If you prefer working with equations and mathematical models to approach solutions, a mathematics program like Maryville University’s Bachelor of Science in Mathematics may offer a great option.

Regardless of their differences, both economics and mathematics degrees open professional possibilities for individuals who have a knack for numbers and wish to have an impact on solving real-world problems.

LiveScience, “What is Mathematics?” 

Maryville University, Bachelor’s of Science in Mathematics 

The Balance Careers, “Top Jobs for Economics Majors

The Balance Careers, “Top Jobs for Mathematics Majors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mathematicians and Statisticians

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