School of Economics

What topics can I study?

There is a broad range of topics that you can study for your PhD in Economics. This page contains some examples of areas we cover. Staff Profiles also give information on research areas covered by specific members of faculty.



We offer supervision on a range of topics in economics from social and behaviour economics to game theory and contract theory, from sports economics and neuroeconomics to health economics and family economics, from search and matching and international economics to political conflict and occupational mobility. Our strengths, in particular, are in:

  • Economic Theory (contract theory, game theory, micro and macro)
  • Labour Economics (micro and macro)
  • Applied Econometrics (micro, macro, health and education)
  • Behavioural and Experimental Economics

The ability to match your topic with our supervision team is equally as important as your topic. We will not admit a student where we cannot provide the very best supervision. Therefore, you should think carefully about whether your topic matches our research interests. You will be asked to address this during the application process. The School is committed to providing the best possible experience to our PhD students, this can only be done by ensuring students receive the very best supervision and support.

If, before applying, you would like to check whether we can offer supervision in your proposed area of research, then please contact us by emailing the Economics Graduate Office or completing the supervision contact form.

To help you see the sorts of topics that you could study here at Edinburgh, the following list of topics with suggested reading may help. It is intended to be indicative rather than exhaustive or prescriptive. We encourage all applicants to visit our academic staff list and the profiles of our current PhD students to get a flavour of the research topics we can offer.

Agricultural Productivity

Developing countries are typically characterised by large agricultural employment shares, and low labour productivity in agriculture relative to non-agriculture. This is an old topic that has received renewed interest recently with the advent of macroeconomic models featuring heterogeneity in agriculture and embedding agriculture into the aggregate economy.

  1. Douglas Gollin, Steven Parente, and Richard Rogerson (2002). “The Role of Agriculture in Development.” American Economic Review.
  2. David Lagakos and Michael Waugh (2013). “Selection, Agriculture, and Cross-Country Productivity Differences. American Economic Review.
  3. Tasso Adamopoulos and Diego Restuccia (2014). “The Size Distribution of Farms and Agricultural Productivity Differences.” American Economic Review.

Explaining trade growth

Quantitative trade models struggle to account for the growth of world trade in the period 1950-­?2010. Several extensions of quantitative trade models have been proposed to solve this “puzzle”. All of them are partially successful on their own, but they have not been explored jointly to determine how much of the puzzle remains.

  1. Zymek, R., 2014. “Factor Proportions and the Growth of World Trade”, Journal of International Economics, forthcoming.
  2. Yi, K.-M., 2003. “Can Vertical Specialization Explain the Growth of World Trade?,” Journal of Political Economy.Bridgman, B., 2008.
  3. “Energy Prices and the Expansion of World Trade,” Review of Economic Dynamics.

Firms and Aggregate Productivity

A large fraction of the variation in aggregate productivity across the world can be traced back to differences in the evolution and organization of firms. Firms differ in their access to credit, quality of management, innovation, factor choices, etc. Current macroeconomic models are a useful tool to determine the optimal distribution of firms and from there measure the impact of misallocation within firms as well as across firms. In particular, they can be used to study the effect of economy-specific policies, institutions, and endowments on the aggregate economy through the evolution of firms.

  1. Hugo Hopenhayn (1992). “Entry, Exit, and Firm Dynamics in Long Run Equilibrium.” Econometrica.
  2. Francisco Buera, Joseph Kaboski and Yongseok Shin (2011). “Finance and Development: A Tale of Two Sectors.” American Economic Review.
  3. Nicholas Bloom, Raffaela Sadun, and John Van Reenen (2012). “The Organization of Firms Across Countries.” Quarterly Journal of Economics.
  4. Jan Grobovsek (2014). “Managerial Delegation, Law Enforcement, and Aggregate Productivity.” Mimeo.

Intermediate Inputs and the Macroeconomy

Distinct economic sectors are cross-linked through the exchange of intermediate inputs, which are important production factors that are typically ignored when sectoral output is defined by value added. As economies differ substantially in their relative sectoral TFP levels, these differences feedback non-trivially into other sectors. There is scope to improve our understanding of the effect of sector-specific distortions on aggregate productivity via the incorporation of intermediate inputs.

  1. Charles Jones (2011). “Intermediate Good and Weak Links in the Theory of Economic Development.” American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics.
  2. Chang-Tai Hsieh and Peter Klenow (2007). “Relative Prices and Relative Prosperity.” American Economic Review.
  3. Jan Grobovsek (2013). “Development Accounting with Intermediate Goods.” Mimeo.

Costs of sovereign default

The costs of sovereign default are important for our understanding of why countries repay their foreign debts. A recent literature has started to explore the economic and legal costs of sovereign default empirically but there is still a lot of scope for data?driven projects in this area.

  1. Ugo Panizza, Federico Sturzenegger, and Jeromin Zettelmeyer, 2009, “The Economics and Law of Sovereign Debt and Default” Journal of Economic Literature.
  2. Bulow, J., and K. Rogoff, 1989, “A Constant Recontracting Model of Sovereign Debt,” Journal of Political Economy.

Information transmission in principal-agent models

Information is fundamental to rewards and punishments. An important question in principal-agent models is what information is created, communicated, hidden, fabricated, verified, or destroyed.

  1. Clausen, A., 2013. “Moral Hazard with Counterfeit Signals” mimeo.
  2. Townsend, R. M., 1979. Optimal contracts and competitive markets with costly state verification, Journal of Economic Theory.
  3. Crocker, J., and Morgan, J., 1998. Is honesty the best policy? Curtailing insurance fraud through optimal incentive contracts. Journal of Political Economy.

Two-sided matching in labour markets with heterogeneous agents

With heterogeneous agents on the both sides of the market it is possible to address not only unemployment, but also match quality and therefore whether government interventions such as unemployment benefits would improve matching.

  1. Eeckhout, J. and P. Kircher, 2010, Sorting and Decentralized Price Competition, Econometrica.
  2. Shimer, R., and L. Smith, 2000. Assortative Matching and Search, Econometrica.

Two-sided matching

  1. Hopkins, E. and V. Bhaskar, (2014): “Marriage as a Rat Race: Noisy Pre-Marital Investments with Assortative Matching”. Mimeo.
  2. Chakraborty, A., A. Citannay and M. Ostrovskyz (2007): "Two-sided matching with interdependent values," mimeo.
  3. Clark, S., (2006). The Uniqueness of Stable Matchings, Berkeley Journal in Theoretical Economics.
  4. Greenwood, J., N. Guner, G. Kocharkov, C. Santos (2014): “Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality” NBER Working Paper.

Housing Markets

House prices and house sales are positively correlated. Yet time on the market is negatively correlated with prices. Search theory is a natural paradigm to study housing markets since it captures the illiquidity of houses and the fact that the degree of liquidity may vary with market conditions.

  1. Díaz, A. And Jerez, B. (2013), House Prices, Sales, and Time On The Market: A Search-Theoretic Framework. International Economic Review.
  2. Moen, E. R. and P.T., 2014. "Buying First or Selling First in Housing Markets," CEPR Discussion Papers.

Directed Search

In directed search models, workers do not encounter firms completely at random but try to locate those posting attractive positions. Age, experience and employment position of a worker will all help determine a worker’s optimal search strategy.

  1. Menzio,G., I. Telyukova and L. Visschers (2012) “Directed Search over the Life Cycle”, mimeo.
  2. Galenianos, M. and Kircher, P. (2009) Directed search with multiple job applications. Journal of economic theory.
  3. Mortensen, D., and C. Pissarides. 1994. “Job Creation and Job Destruction in the Theory of Unemployment.” Review Economic Studies.
  4. Bagger, J., F. Fontaine, F. Postel-Vinay and J.-M. Robin, 2014, “Tenure, Experience, Human Capital and Wages: A Tractable Equilibrium Search Model of Wage Dynamics”, American Economic Review.

Health Economics

How does economic activity impact health and how does health affect economic activity. For example, it has been found that unemployment may cause depression, suicide, and bad health outcomes in general. How does this affect other members of the family? If the primary earner is unemployed, does this translate to worse health outcomes / health behaviours of the family members? How does life expectancy impact on consumption decisions for durable and other goods?

  1. Kuhn, A., R. Lalive, J. Zweimüller (2009): “The public health costs of job loss”, Journal of Health Economics.
  2. Bíró, A. (2013): “Subjective mortality hazard shocks and the adjustment of consumption expenditures”, Journal of Population Economics.
  3. Cutler, D., and E. Glaeser. (2005): “What Explains Differences in Smoking, Drinking, and Other Health Related Behaviors?”, American Economic Review.

Information design

There are two ways of creating incentives for interacting agents to behave in a desired way. One is by providing appropriate payoff incentives, which is the subject of mechanism design. The other is by choosing the information that agents observe: information design. Much work has been done on mechanism design. Information design is a more recent topic of interest.

  1. Taneva, I. (2014): “Information Design” working paper.
  2. Kamenica, E. and M. Gentzkow (2011): “Bayesian Persuasion”, American Economic Review.

The effect of political and economic institutions/outcomes on culture/beliefs

While most works in economics takes preferences as exogenously given, recent evidence suggests that personal experiences have the potential to shape certain parameters (e.g. people growing up during a recession being more risk averse in their investments). Meanwhile, the proposed effects of culture (i.e. individualist versus collectivist) on political and economic institutions beg the question of whether culture/beliefs themselves can be influenced by institutions such as curriculum and media.

  1. Gorodnichenko Y., and G. Roland, 2014: Culture, Institutions and Democratisation. Mimeo.
  2. Cantoni, D., Chen, Y., Yang, D. Y., Yuchtman, N. and Zhang, Y. J, (2014), Curriculum and Ideology.

Information Disclosure in Auctions

Much work has been done on auctions and auction design. An important topic in auction theory is the disclosure of information.

  1. Ganuza, J-J. and J. S. Penalva (2010): “Signal Orderings Based on Dispersion and the Supply of Private Information in Auctions”, Econometrica.
  2. Eso, P. and B. Szentes (2007): “Optimal Information Disclosure in Auctions and the Handicap Auction”, Review of Economic Studies.

Information transmission in games

Is there a trade-off between the quality and quantity communication when respondents have a strategic incentive to misreport?

  1. K. Kawamura (2013): Eliciting Information from a Large Population, Mimeo.

Dynamic contracting

Relational contracting between two or more agents, with and without complete information is an important topic for understanding how investment and transactions within a relationship change over time.

  1. Thomas, J. and T. Worrall (2014): “Dynamic Relational Contracts under Complete Information”, Mimeo.
  2. Clementi, G.L. and H. A. Hopenhayn (2006): “A Theory of Financing Constraints and Firm Dynamics“, The Quarterly Journal of Economics.
  3. M. Halac (2012): “Relational Contracts and the Value of Relationships,” American Economic Review.

Wage Setting

An important topic for macroeconomics is to understand how wages are set over the cycle and how wages evolve over time and how that interacts with productivity and unemployment.

  1. Snell, A., and J. Thomas, (2010): “Labour Contracts, Equal Treatment, and Wage-Unemployment Dynamics” AEJ: Macroeconomics.

Global Games

Global games can be applied to understand financial and macroeconomic problems, in which agents may be prone to self-fulfilling panics, such as in bank runs.

  1. Sakovics, J. and J. Steiner (2012), “Who Matters in Coordination Problems”, American Economic Review.
  2. Morris , S.and H. Shin, (2003): “Global Games: Theory and Applications”, in: Dewatripont, M., Hansen, M., Turnovsky, S. (Eds), Advances in Economics and Econometrics (Proceedings of the Eighth World Congress of the Econometric Society), Cambridge University Press.

Inequality, relative income, status and economic growth

How does risk-taking vary with gender, relative position and inequality? How does it impact on economic performance?

  1. Hopkins, E. and T. Kornienko (2004): “Running to Keep in the Same Place: Consumer Choice as a Game of Status”, with Tatiana Kornienko, American Economic Review.
  2. E. Hopkins (2014): “Inequality, Gender and Risk-Taking Behaviour:”, Mimeo.

Imperfect competition among traders

How do sellers compete in attracting buyers? How do buyers decide where and what to bid? There are many ways of thinking about this problem, some ideas can be found in the following:

  1. Burguet, R. and J. Sákovicsz (2014): “Bertrand and the long run”, Mimeo.
  2. De Fraja, G. and J. Sákovicsz (2012) “Exclusive Nightclubs and Lonely Hearts Columns: Non-monotone Participation in Optional Intermediation” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.
  3. J, Sákovicsz (2014): “Price formation in a matching market with targeted offers” Games and Economic Behavior.

The causes and consequences of political conflict

There has been a growing empirical literature on the bidirectional relationship between economic performance and the incidence of violent conflict While there remains room for novel empirical contributions, there is perhaps even greater demand for theoretical work highlighting the nuances discovered in the data so far.

  1. Dube, O. and J. Vargas (2013): “Commodity Price Shocks and Civil Conflict: Evidence from Colombia”, Review of Economic Studies.
  2. Blattman, C., and E. Miguel (2010): “Civil War”, Journal of Economic Literature.