The Stanford Economics Department has two central missions: to train students at the undergraduate and graduate level in the methods and ideas of modern economics, and to conduct both basic and applied research in economics that pushes forward the frontier of knowledge in the field.
The department offers an undergraduate program that includes a wide array of courses in which students learn about both traditional ideas and cutting-edge research. The undergraduate program provides an excellent background for those going on to graduate work in professional schools (for example, business and law) as well as for Ph.D. programs in Economics and Finance. An undergraduate degree in Economics also provides a pathway to a diverse set of career opportunities, including jobs in private companies and public policy positions. Given their highly quantitative focus, Economics courses provide a useful applied complement to tools that students learn in mathematics, computer science, and statistics courses.
The department also offers a Ph.D. program, in which the primary objective is training students as research economists. In the process, students also acquire the background and skills necessary for careers as scholars, university teachers, and economic analysts. The curriculum includes a comprehensive treatment of modern theory and empirical techniques as well as field courses taught by leaders in each of the subfields of the discipline.
Students at Stanford participate in a rich intellectual environment including weekly seminars, as well as student research workshops and other gatherings that offer opportunities for informal feedback and interaction among students and faculty. In addition, students have access to a variety of courses offered through other departments around campus, including the Department of Statistics, the Graduate School of Business, the Department of Sociology, and so forth. Currently, approximately 25 new students join the Ph.D. program each year.
Stanford rose to international prominence in economics following World War II. In the early 1960s, the department became known as a center for economic theory. This tradition continues to the present day. Stanford economists have made foundational contributions to the formulation of general equilibrium theory, the development of game theory, the birth and growth of market design, and the economic analysis of networks, as well as other major advances in economic theory.
Building on its traditional strength in economic theory, the department has added leading empiricists who combine theoretical tools with modern analytic methods and datasets to test and refine economic theories. The applied work of Stanford faculty has shaped many features of the American economy, including the underpinnings of modern monetary policy, the design of spectrum auctions, the construction of markets to match students to public schools, the design of programs to provide greater access to higher education among disadvantaged students, and new policies to increase social mobility.
A unique aspect of research at Stanford is its highly interdisciplinary nature. Members of the Economics Department frequently collaborate with scholars in the medical school, business school, and other departments. Taking advantage of its proximity to Silicon Valley, a major focus of current applied work at Stanford involves the use of big data and machine learning methods to develop new economic insights. Applied research is supported by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), which serves as a vehicle to increase the impact of policy-relevant economic research. SIEPR hosts a large group of visiting scholars from other institutions who collaborate with Stanford faculty and students, and provides infrastructure and funding to support faculty and student research.
Today, Stanford's faculty includes many researchers who are currently shaping the frontier of economics, with more Clark medalists than any other department in the United States since 2000. The department aspires to continue to shape economic thought in the coming decades through extraordinary teaching and path-breaking research.
Economics has been taught at Stanford since the University opened for classes in 1891. In 1892 Amos G. Warner, a Johns Hopkins Ph.D., was hired to head the new Department of Economics and Social Science. Stanford was an educational innovator even then: Chairman Warner used to offer free meals to tramps and migrants, so that his students could observe the problems of the poor and unemployed. The first Ph.D. was awarded in 1896 to Mary Roberts Smith for her thesis on the Almshouse Women of San Francisco. The early years of the department were turbulent, marked by controversial dismissals of Edward Ross and Thorstein Veblen. Informed by this experience, the department has long maintained a commitment to intellectual diversity in approaches to the discipline of economics.
At that time the department included political science and sociology as well as economics. Political Science became a separate department after World War I, while Sociology remained with Economics until after World War II.
Following World War II, under the leadership of Bernard Haley, Edward Shaw, and Moses Abramovitz, Stanford rose to national and international prominence in economics. In the early 1960s, the department became known as a center for economic theory, particularly the summer gatherings of leading theorists from around the world. This tradition continues to the present day. A major presence at the summer sessions from the outset was Kenneth Arrow, who joined the department in 1949 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Science in 1972.
In the 1960s, the department was also a center of expertise in economic development and economic history, including such figures as Abramovitz, Tibor Scitovsky, Hollis Chenery, Emile Despres. John Gurley and Edward Shaw pioneered the study of relationships between finance and economic development.
In 1994 the department moved into its present quarters in the Landau Building, named for Ralph Landau, pioneer chemical engineer, entrepreneur, and benefactor to Stanford. The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, aptly symbolizing the department's longstanding determination to combine theory with applied fields and policy-oriented research, is in the building next to Economics. Through SIEPR and other channels, the economics department maintains strong cooperative relationships with social scientists throughout Stanford, including the Graduate School of Business, the Hoover Institution, and the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences. As of the 1990s, Stanford has regularly been ranked among the top handful of graduate economics programs in the nation.