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I recently asked a professor if he was planning on hiring a research assistant for next semester. I thought I'd be a pretty good candidate since I have decent experience using STATA, SAS, SPSS, R Studio and Mathematica, but he started asking me about a couple programs I had never heard of before. That led me to wonder what are the most commonly used programs for Economics. A friend of mine suggested I also look into Matlab and Python.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, the professor could be annoying by a graduate/undergraduate student who claims he has decent experience with 6 fairly different and complex programs. $\endgroup$
    – Thorst
    May 29 '15 at 6:25
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    $\begingroup$ Could you specify what kind of Economics your professor is teaching? Time Series analysis, General Equilibrium modelling? The kind of program he uses probably depends on what he needs it to do. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    May 29 '15 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that the question is somewhat broad. At least you could explicitly state that you're after academic economists, which is somewhat implied in your question already. $\endgroup$
    – FooBar
    May 29 '15 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ This was a Microeconomics professor, who specializes in Environmental Economics. $\endgroup$ May 29 '15 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ In the Central Bank-sphere the following are quite popular: EViews, MATLAB/Dynare, TROLL, RATS, and R. Basically, a coverage of software for large-scale econometric models (yes, they still exist!), DSGE models, time-series models (SVARs, various state-space models, etc.), and Bayesian techniques. One of the FEDs recently moved its code-base to Julia. See here: libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2015/12/… And, FRB/US model is in EViews. TROLL used at Bank of Canada. $\endgroup$ Feb 7 '16 at 1:57
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There's three important dimensions for programs/languages:

  • Convention: Having a program that everyone uses helps you to get feedback/help, work with coauthors, use other people's codes
  • Ease of use: Since many uses in economics are routines, having the program doing these for you and making your implementation of the use easier is a big bonus
  • Adaptability: A program that allows you doing covering most of your needs and learning only one syntax versus having to work with different programs at the same time

In terms of frequency of usage among academic economists, here's my ranking:

Top tier

  • For econometrics, by far, STATA. Mostly because of convention and ease of use.
  • For dynamic programming, and to some extent monte carlo, by far, Matlab. Mostly because of convention and ease of use

Second tier

  • For time series econometrics, Eviews (ease of use)
  • For all kinds of econometrics, R (adaptability, somewhat convention)
  • The swiss knife of really anything, Python (adaptability)

Specialists

  • SAS, for huge data sets
  • Fortran, for efficient prebuilt routines and large scale computation

This list is of course my personal opinion, and for academic economists only. I believe that no one will dispute the top tier, but the second tier/specialists can be somewhat debated. And then there's some more who are even more specialist (for example, Octave as a open source Matlab alternative)

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    $\begingroup$ Octave * is the open source Matlab alternative. $\endgroup$
    – Hessian
    May 29 '15 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with this, but would add it depends on the economic field. I could see R moving into the top tier for specifics and STATA moving to second tier. However, from my experience STATA and MATLAB are the current work horses for most. R is making a big move though and think it will eventually be in the top tier soon. $\endgroup$
    – Amstell
    Jun 9 '15 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ This answer seems to presuppose a lot about the specific field and only adresses data evaluation software. Theorists for example work a lot more with Mathematica and Maple than with any of the programs you mentioned. Experimental economists use a whole bunch of programs for running their experiments, etc.. I guess the only program used by almost all economist is Latex... but then again, there are always those odd MS Word papers floating around :-D $\endgroup$
    – HRSE
    Feb 13 '16 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ Note that Stata claims that its program should be written Stata and not STATA. $\endgroup$
    – emeryville
    Feb 14 '16 at 2:58
  • $\begingroup$ OxMetrics should perhaps also be mentioned under timeseries. $\endgroup$ Dec 28 '20 at 20:21
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In the ReplicationWiki (that I work on) we have a list of software packages that were used in more than 2000 empirical studies, mainly in the American Economic Review, American Economic Journals and Journal of Political Economy in the years 2000-2013. Stata was used by far most often (>900 times), followed by MATLAB (280), SAS (60), GAUSS (60), Excel (50), R (30), FORTRAN (30), Mathematica (19), EViews (18), z-Tree (16), dynare (15), RATS (12), C (8), C++ (6), python (5, more recent studies), SPSS (5). There are also examples with ArcGIS, ArcMap, java, LIMDEP, Maple, Microfit, Ox, ORSEE, PcGive, perl, TSP, and gretl. Often times more than one package is used. Some economists also use julia.

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  • $\begingroup$ Haha, the replication wiki again :-D. Unfortunately, the OP is not applying for a position in empirical economics. However, I like that this answer gives concrete data on the citations of the software. $\endgroup$
    – HRSE
    Feb 13 '16 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Jan could you please take a look at this question:Is there a reproducibility crisis in Economics? $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Feb 19 '20 at 20:49
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For a general overview, let’s consider a following list:

  • Statistical Analysis: R (R Studio as IDE), Stata, SAS/Stat and IBM SPSS.
  • Some general purpose languages: Python, including key packages like Pandas, Scipy, Numpy, Sympy etc., and machine learning packages. Recently Julia. May be also C++ or Java as object-oriented languages (just to mention).
  • Algebraic packages: Matlab vs Mathematica.
  • Databases: SQL and NoSQL solutions like MongoDB.
  • BigData: Hadoop + Haskell as a functional programming language (actively used in finances).

Just for more focused issues:

  • Bayesian statistics: STAN.
  • Impact analysis: IMPLAN, REMI, to name a few.
  • DSGE: Dynare backed by GNU Octave.
  • Agent-based modelling: NetLogo.
  • Optimisation: GAMS.
  • Legacy spreadsheet: Excel VBA.
  • System modelling: Vensim and a whole lot of dynamic modelling software.

Hope that helps.

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  • $\begingroup$ A downvoting should be commented. What is wrong, buddy? $\endgroup$
    – garej
    Jun 7 '15 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ @BKay What else does the question as it stated presuppose? As I read it, the idea it to guess what the professor might had in mind that our student had never heard about. Being environment economist he perheps deals with some impact and CB analysis. Links are always convenient - you may ignore them if you like. $\endgroup$
    – garej
    Jun 8 '15 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ I also don't think this is an answer to the question Most common programs used by Economists. Especially Excel "Must know basics" is something I've never seen in academia (and only heard of in the Reinhard-Rogoff case). $\endgroup$
    – FooBar
    Jun 8 '15 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ @FooBar Why do you think that economists work only in academia. Excel is ubiquitous. And Excel Visual Basic for Applications is a 'must know' competence for anybody working with it (macros). And it is just brench of Basic language. Economists in general do use it a lot. $\endgroup$
    – garej
    Jun 8 '15 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ @garej I sympathise with you. Pretty much every single economist I know outside academia uses Excel - perhaps on a daily basis, too. They might not use it for modelling work, but they definitely do for general analysis and tracking the latest developments in the economy. Some economists who have been in the game for decades simply don't need anything other than Excel to make a few quick calculations and make up their mind what's going on. For them, anything else is just overkill. $\endgroup$ Feb 7 '16 at 18:46
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From my experience (buy-side economist role),

  1. Eviews - the GUI is very convenient to deal with the most of the daily tasks e.g. updating econometrics models and forecasts; and its continuously improving interface with external databases make my life much easier
  2. R / Matlab - easy for monte carlo simulation and dealing with financial data and stochastics models

Excel is popular for equity financial modeling and corporate finance, but C++ / R are dominated in financial engineering / quants field

SPSS is more popular in other social science field as it is not really good at dealing with time series (major part of my work) in my opinion

SAS is good for huge set of data due to its unique memory management... but Eviews can handle most of situation in my case (unlike financial data, what we face with economic data is a lack of observation instead of too much data for the memory..)

Python is a fast program but not convenient to implement for daily analysis purpose.. and for the rest you mentioned, they evolve to provide quite similar functions nowadays

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    $\begingroup$ Python is a programming language with extensive interfaces to a very large range of libraries - which makes it the swiss army knife for analysis for people with reasonable programming skills. For those who can't afford/get a Matlab license, the python numeric libraries provide good alternatives. C++ is also a programming language - and requires advanced programming skills. $\endgroup$
    – Lumi
    May 29 '15 at 8:59
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    $\begingroup$ Some would say Python is a good alternative to Matlab even if you can afford/get a license. $\endgroup$
    – cc7768
    May 29 '15 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ You may very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment :) $\endgroup$
    – Lumi
    May 29 '15 at 16:24
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This really depends on your school or profession as to what is most prevalent.

Professors at my school seem to use mostly Matlab and Stata. Some subjects even require GAUSS, which I had never heard of before. There is also some python involved.

In my experience (anecdotal), the finance sector uses excel a lot.

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To add to the anecdotal evidence collection, I also have experienced that Stata is the most standard stats software.

EViews is another option.

As for other programs, beside statistical analysis software, LaTeX is a programming language used to format documents for presentation.

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    $\begingroup$ LaTeX is a markup language. $\endgroup$
    – jmbejara
    May 29 '15 at 9:52
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    $\begingroup$ Actually LaTeX is Turing complete and thereby a programming language. $\endgroup$
    – Rud Faden
    May 29 '15 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ @RudFaden So is Microsoft Excel. $\endgroup$ May 30 '15 at 16:14
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Just to add to what is here, a lot of economists who do heavy work (dynamic programming, structural estimation) can't get away with using a language like Matlab that isn't compiled. From older economists (tenured faculty, say) I see a surprising amount of fortran for these applications. C++ may be more popular among younger economists for the same job, but fortran has had surprising staying power.

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Just as an addition to all mentioned above and because the original question is about environmental economics: in that context GAMS is used quite a bit.

In fact Nordhaus celebrated DICE model that is the basis of much of his Nobel prize work on climate change is a GAMS model. As a consequence so is most of the follow-up research.

On a personal note I myself use Maxima sometimes which is a free program similar to Mathematica.

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