The field of economics is one of the most popular choices for high school students transferring to college. It is a vast field with possibilities of quantitative and qualitative research. Economics has significant intersections with finance, business, geopolitics, world trade, tech (fintech!). If you are interested in economics, there is a lot to figure out and choose from.
What are the elements of a good research question?
The first thing you should look at while finalizing a research problem is relevancy. You should pick an idea that aims to fill an existing knowledge gap in the field or proposes solutions to a problem. Be as original as possible.
You should also ensure that the research you choose to undertake is feasible in terms of resources, time, effort, and complexity. While it may be tempting to choose an extremely challenging research question, know the sweet spot between being comfortable enough to conduct the research, and challenging yourself as a student of economics.
Additionally, make sure you understand the fundamentals of independent research.
Once you have a clear research question, you would have addressed relevance, innovation, feasibility, and significance. Then, it’s time to think through the methodology, ethics, and reporting style.
How Can Research Help With Your College Admissions?
College admissions officers are looking for students that demonstrate critical thinking skills, problem identification and solving skills, sound academic writing, as well as a mature eye for gaps in a field that they aim to solve with research.
Working on a research project helps you check all of the boxes above and boosts your profile. It also shows that you are curious and can create opportunities for yourself.
Ambitious high school students who are selected for the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs work on a research area of their interest and receive 1-1 mentorship by top Ph.D. scholars. Below, we share some of the research ideas that have been proposed by our research mentors – we hope they inspire you!
25 Research Ideas in Economics
We compiled 25 research ideas from our research mentors - these are PhD researchers in economics from Stanford, Harvard, Cambridge, and a few others!
Topic #1: Climate Crisis through an Economic Lens
The climate crisis is not just an environmental concern. A rise in carbon emissions, rising food pricing due to inadequate agricultural output, as well as the cost and availability of fuel all affect the global economy in more ways than we think. As a researcher in the field of climate crisis through an economic lens, you can conduct exciting research in the field of supply and demand for fossil fuel, working on more sustainable policies for conservation frameworks, to name a few. For this project, you can conduct both rich primary and secondary research, at a local/regional or global scale, depending on your research goals.
Here are a few ideas you can pick -
1. Analyze differing viewpoints on how central banks can and/or should respond to climate change and its associated risks.
2. Study how the economic impacts of climate change are likely to vary in different regions and at different points in the income distribution.
3. Study the impact climate change may have on monetary policy.
4. Learn about hindrances and behavioral strategies to foster climate-friendly diets.
Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from Boston University, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of Cambridge, and University College London.
Topic #2: Game Theory and its Applications
One of the most exciting fields for research, game theory is a mathematical concept framework that helps us understand decision-making behavior in situations where two or more players or agents interact with each other. You might have heard about the famous Prisoner's Dilemma, an example most commonly cited while explaining Game Theory. You can conduct research, and apply your findings in social sciences such as psychology, politics, and biology!
Here are a few ideas -
5. Apply game theoretic methods to improve market outcomes in the area of matching markets (e.g. labor or dating markets) and negotiations.
6. Answer questions such as the ones below using game theory to analyze strategic interactions among the players -
Why do wars occur?
What are the optimal fighting strategies for the conflicting parties?
What are the optimal peacekeeping strategies for the peacekeeper?
7. Examine the impact of information on strategic decision-making.
Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Cambridge.
Topic #3: Economics and AI
As is the case with multiple other subjects, AI is becoming closely integrated with Economics with every passing day. A great example of the integration of AI and Economics is predictive analytics. Using the vast amounts of data available online, we can train software to interpret this data to make assumptions about economic events in the near future. If you're interested in computer science, algorithms, and data science, AI x Economics is a great research field for you.
You can pick up an idea or two from the following -
8. Examine the relationship between income inequality and economic growth using data from different countries or regions.
9. Study the potential biases and fairness issues that can crop up in AI-powered economic decision-making, particularly in the context of lending and credit decisions.
10. Study how machine learning algorithms can be used to predict stock prices, economic indicators, or other financial metrics.
11. Study the implications for technologies such as blockchain to increase trust in an increasingly decentralized world.
Idea contributed by Lumiere Mentor from the University of Southern California
Topic #4:Gender Studies from an Economics Perspective
Just like we covered economics, and climate change as subjects that intersect with economics, gender too, is seen in the intersection. As part of your research, you can use secondary data taken from sociological, anthropological, and psychological studies, and apply them in the field of economics.
Here are a few interesting ideas that you can pursue -
12. Explore the factors that influence labor force participation rates for men and women.
13. Study the economic value of unpaid work, especially that taken up by women in a traditional role such as that of a housewife.
14. How do changes in social safety net policies affect economically vulnerable families? You can answer questions like
Why is health insurance important for young adults?
How does the minimum wage affect employment and earnings? How does paid maternity leave affect the gender wage gap?
15. Explore STEM course enrolment differences across male and female students. You can use principles from behavioral economics to explain possible reasons for gender disparities in STEM course enrolment.
Idea contributed by Lumiere Mentor from the University of California, Davis.
Topic #5: Consumer Behaviour through an Economic Lens
This research field is more of an overlap between the fields of psychology and economics. If you're a budding marketing or entrepreneur, conducting research in the field of consumer behavior will help you build your portfolio, gain more knowledge about the field right before college, and give you a better insight into why people carry out purchases the way they do - an interesting insight to have as a consumer yourself!
Here are a few research ideas -
16. Analyse and examine contract design used by firms - which factors contribute to a more ready acceptance of a contract, and which factors make the contract more prone to negotiation/rejection?
17. How do consumers respond to energy efficiency programs that provide information and/or incentives - how do we design these programs and energy policy to increase demand for energy efficiency products?
18. Research different pricing strategies such as discounts, coupons, and bundling, and how they affect consumer behavior.
19. Study how consumers respond to energy efficiency programs that provide information and/or incentives - how does one design programs and energy policies to increase demand for energy efficiency products?
Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from INSEAD, and Cornell University.
Topic #6: Agriculture and Rural Development
Another exciting field of research in economics, agriculture, and rural development allows you to apply global concepts in highly localized and concentrated areas, such as your region or state. As a researcher, you can pick up topics such as subsidies and production, international food trade, as well as policies created for the betterment of individuals in rural areas of a particular country or region.
Here are a few more ideas -
20. Learn about how the market power of intermediaries in agriculture affects the income of the farmers. You can study, for example, the passing of the controversial Farm Bills in India.
21. Analyze the potential for reducing food waste to promote sustainable agriculture and rural development, and develop strategies to combat food waste at a local level.
22. In line with research in the field of climate change, examine the economic implications of climate change for farmers, rural communities, and food security.
23. Study the effects of global food trade on various farming communities.
24. Examine the impact of supply chain issues on the industry, such as food waste and supply chain disruptions.
25. Analyze the impact of labor issues in your state/region on the agricultural industry and evaluate potential solutions that you can recommend to local leadership.
Idea contributed by Lumiere Mentor from the University of Michigan.
Topic #7: Public Policy and Finance
Another exciting interdisciplinary area of research, public policy, and finance ties in closely with law, politics, and to a certain extent, international relations! As a young researcher in the field, you can consult local leaders, reports of policy change, and analysis of policies by a particular party in a country and how it impacted the country's economy in the long run, to name a few.
You need to have a keen eye for cause-effect as well as a mature perspective on policy in the public sphere before you conduct research.
Here are a few ideas -
26. Study how federal and local tax policy has evolved and the potential impact it's had on structural inequities and wealth and income inequality.
27. Understand vertical mergers and their impact on the economy, and -
learn about some of the biggest firms' practices to reduce market competition
investigate how policymakers are currently addressing this issue.
28. Think about policies that allow governments in low-income countries to collect more revenue and provide better services for their citizens.
29. Study the impact of recent healthcare policies in your state or region on access and cost of healthcare.
Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from the University of Michigan, and the University of Southern California.
If you are interested in doing university-level research in economics, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.
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