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After Teaching 45,000 Students, Elzinga in a Class By Himself

To see the video click here

It’s likely that Ken Elzinga has impacted more students than any professor in University of Virginia history.

By the spring of 2015, the Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics had taught nearly 45,000 students. That’s more than the population of Charlottesville, and more than any professor on record at U.Va., according to George Stovall, director of the Office of Institutional Assessment and Studies.

Those numbers stem from more than four decades of teaching one of U.Va.’s largest and most popular courses. The supply of seats in one of Elzinga’s two 500-person “Introduction to Microeconomics” classes never quite seems to meet demand. As for his smaller, 20-person anti-trust seminar, taught in the spring semester, students are advised to request entrance into the class two years ahead of time.

During his 47-year run at the University, Elzinga has become nationally renowned for both his illustrative teaching and his work in the field of economics, and famous for his personal commitments to each of his students outside the classroom.

Ken Elzinga
Photo by Sanjay Suchak

He’s also a man who, at age 73, spends his free time driving street rods, and still water skis every summer. Though that’s a side his students rarely see, there’s always a hint of eccentricity in their otherwise-inconspicuous professor who never seems to run out of brightly colored ties.

Teaching Generations

“Mr. Elzinga is a very humble man, very unassuming. He comes across as a kind older man who is amiable and loves what he does,” said Alyssa Mazenic, a first-year student who took Elzinga’s class last fall. “Coming into the class, I didn’t really know what to expect; I’d never had a course on economics. … But it was better than I expected. I was very impressed with his manner and the way that he was very approachable, and I thought that he really cares about each one of his students.”

Like Mazenic, Howard Siegel, a 1970 graduate of U.Va.’s McIntire School of Commerce, initially was intimidated by the sheer number of students in the classroom when he took Elzinga’s first-ever introductory economics class in 1967, after the new professor had arrived as a freshly minted Ph.D. graduate of Michigan State University. But both found the class, and its teacher, to be one of their favorites.

On the last day of class, Siegel distinctly remembers Elzinga coming up to him in the Old Cabell Hall auditorium and telling Siegel that he was his personal “guide” to see if he was getting his points across. “I'm glad he stayed and enjoys a good reputation,” Siegel wrote in an email.

It’s his relatability, along with excellent teaching, that has made Elzinga so prolific.

He’s said he doesn’t get bored – or in economic terms, the utility he gains from teaching hasn’t diminished with each year. “Students are new every year,” he told the Cavalier Daily in a 2013 interview. “I’d get bored if it were the same group of students for four years, and they’d get bored too. But it’s a real treat to be able to work with young people.”

As generations of students have come to love him, taking his class has become a family affair. Kim and John Hermsmeier, 1985 graduates of the College of Arts & Sciences, both took Elzinga’s class, and two of their three children followed suit.

“My son was so inspired by Mr. Elzinga that he is now majoring in economics,” Kim Hermsmeier said. “My younger daughter has applied early action to U.Va., and it is her hope to take Mr. Elzinga’s economics class next year. She is currently reading my 30-plus-year-old copy of ‘Murder at the Margin.’” Co-written by Elzinga and William L. Breit, an economics professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas under the combined pen name “Marshall Jevons,” the book is one of four economics-centered mystery novels that Elizinga often assigns as reading to his Econ 201 students.

The Hermsmeiers recounted how Elzinga annually invites students without a place to go for Thanksgiving into his home.

“My first thought was to regret that I had a family to go home to, for I would have preferred to hang out with the Elzingas and some fellow Wahoos,” John Hermsmeier said. “Now a generation later, we get a message from our daughter asking if we had plans for Thanksgiving, because she sure would like to go to the Elzingas’!”

A Commitment to Servanthood

Elzinga is heavily engaged in the University community, and specifically the Christian community. In 1976, he co-founded the Center for Christian Study, an education and outreach organization for students, faculty, staff and community members located just outside Grounds on the U.Va. Corner.

“He’s one of the most generous individuals I know, but he does it quietly,” said Shelley Pellish, director of administration and development at the center, which students refer to as “The Stud.”

“He’ll come over and eat with students weekly, and will get to know them and pray with them,” she said. “We’re part of a network of 20 campus ministries [on Grounds], and he speaks at many of them during the semester, and he also travels to speak engagements at other colleges.”

Elzinga also promotes undergraduate research on Grounds through his Marshall Jevons Fund, which gives small grants of up to $1,000 to undergraduate research projects and academic travel in the field of economics.

Perhaps the most telling picture of Elzinga’s commitment to his students is his vow to serve every one who shows up to his famous office hours, which begin early in the afternoon and can stretch until 7 p.m.

“He always makes sure to mention his office hours [every time] we have lecture,” said Elizabeth Hofer, another first-year student who took Elzinga’s class last semester. “When you go, it doesn’t necessarily have to be for help with the material, but it’s for him to get to know you, because he doesn’t have the option to get to know students during class. He makes time every day of the week if it’s possible to get to know students. I think it’s a really great testament to his character.”

She and Mazenic are both continuing their studies in economics this semester, and Mazenic has already decided that she wants to declare her major in the field.

“Mr. Elzinga is the reason why I want to study economics at U.Va,” she said. “He impacts every single student that sits in this auditorium. I hope I can someday be as passionate about my career.”

by Mitchell Powers & Lauren Jones

Economists Find Rare Empirical Evidence of Love in Unique Marriage Survey

Economists Find Rare Empirical Evidence of Love in Unique Marriage Survey


Economists are not famed for their romantic insights. But a new study by two University of Virginia economists, Leora Friedberg and Steven Stern, has found quantitative evidence of love – something very few economic studies ever have claimed – in married couples’ answers to two penetrating questions about the quality of their marriage, combined with their divorce rates six years later.

The questions are from the long-term National Survey of Families and Households, administered by the University of Wisconsin:

  • How happy are you in your marriage relative to how happy you would be if you weren’t in the marriage? [Much worse; worse; same; better; much better.]
  • How do you think your spouse answered that question?

The study, published in the current issue of the International Economic Review, examines how 4,242 households answered those questions in a 1987-88 wave of the survey, and then again roughly six years later, on average, for the 1992-94 wave.

Only 40.9 percent couples accurately identified how their spouse would answer the question. So almost 60 percent of couples had imperfect (asymmetric) information about each other, and roughly a quarter of those had “serious” discrepancies in overall happiness (differing by more than one response category), notes the study, titled “Marriage, Divorce and Asymmetric Information.”

According to bargaining theory, the more that one spouse misjudges his or her partner’s happiness (particularly by overestimating), the more likely he or she will bargain “too hard” and make a mistake.

As an example, Stern explained, “If I believe my wife is really happy in the marriage, I might push her to do more chores or contribute a larger portion of the family income. If, unbeknownst to me, she’s actually just lukewarm about the marriage, or she’s got a really good-looking guy who is interested in her, she may decide those demands are the last straw, and decide a divorce would be a better option for her.”

In this scenario, pushing a bargain too hard, based on misperception of a spouse’s happiness (information asymmetry), will result in a divorce that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred.

Among these 4,242 couples, the data had the general shape predicted by bargaining theory. Divorce rates increased in strong linear correlation with couples’ reported unhappiness with the marriage, and with spouses overestimating their partners’ happiness – two strong indications that the answers were very sincere and accurate, Stern said.

While the average observed divorce rate was 7.3 percent, the rate was higher for couples in which one spouse overestimated how unhappy the other spouse would be if they separated, at 9 percent to 11.7 percent, and even higher if the misperception was serious (with answers differing by more than one response category), at 13.1 percent to 14.5 percent. Among those couples at the opposite end of the spectrum, in which both couples said they would be “worse” or “much worse” off if they separated, the divorce rate was substantially lower – only 4.8 percent.

While the general trend of divorce rates was consistent with bargaining theory, among spouses who misjudged each other’s happiness in the marriage, bargaining theory predicted a divorce rate much higher than it actually was. What would explain this? That’s where love comes in.

“We started out trying to explain the findings by modeling bargaining between the spouses,” Friedberg said. “This data shows that people aren’t being as tough negotiators as they could be, and then we realized that we needed to include caring in the model for it to make sense.”

With that observation, Friedberg and Stern, both of whom are professors in U.Va.’s Department of Economics, put themselves among a very small group of economists in history to have plausibly identified evidence of love in the real world.

“The idea of love here is that you get some happiness from your spouse simply being happy,” Friedberg said. “For instance, I might agree to do more house chores, which reduces my personal happiness somewhat, but I get some offsetting happiness simply knowing that my partner benefits.”

Economists are always looking for people to reveal their preferences through action rather than simply reporting their attitudes, Stern noted. This set of questions provides couples’ reported attitudes toward each other along with their revealed preferences: whether they are divorced or together six years later.

“These two questions are pretty unique in the whole social science literature,” Stern said. “Combined with the revealed preferences of divorce rates six years later, that’s what really makes them powerful.”

Friedberg added, “These two questions seem to have revealed something fairly profound, something no other surveys have uncovered.”

Friedberg and Stern realized their modeling could address one more issue. With imperfect information about each other, the couples must be making some bargaining mistakes, causing unnecessary divorces by bargaining too hard. The “optimum allocation” of divorces would generate the most total happiness for all parties. What would that look like? And could any sort of public policy based on public information (i.e. the best possible public policy) nudge the total population closer to the optimal allocation of divorces?

As it turns out, the caring behind not-so-hard bargaining leads to overall divorce rates that are actually fairly close – just slightly higher – than the optimal divorce allocation. And there is no observable characteristic or quality recorded by this survey – such as couples’ age differences, education differential, income differential, household chore effort, etc. – that a policy could be based upon to generate a more optimal level of divorces.

Stern explains: “With any given set of observables, some couples will have good marriages and others will have bad marriages. Any public policy will be based on an average marriage observation, which can’t see things like how much the couple are fighting; whether they have the same long-term interests; whether one of the two are really in love with someone else; or how much each spouse values simply staying together, which would make divorce more painful. All of those things should matter. The government can’t create policy based on those things, because it can’t see them.”

As a result, couples on their own are substantially better at deciding when to divorce or not divorce than any policy could be.

Many U.S. states have altered their divorce laws since 1970 in ways that reduce the cost of divorce, and in recent years many leaders have proposed policies to make divorce more difficult in order to reduce the divorce rate. “In this study, we demonstrate why making divorce more difficult is not a good idea,” Stern said, and how, due to caring about each other, couples already are selecting divorces in a way that is quite close to optimal.


U.Va. Economists Shine New Light on Effectiveness of Vocational Rehab Programs

With the help of a new $2.5 million grant, a ‘quantum leap’ improvement in measurement is coming just as state legislatures are increasingly questioning the effectiveness of vocational rehabilitation programs.....

To read the rest of  H. Brevy Cannon's article about Profs. John Pepper and Steven Stern's research, please click here

In Memoriam: Professor John James

 It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of our colleague John James

John joined the Department of Economics at the University of Virginia in 1973 and UVa's Corcoran Department of History at a later date. He was a leading scholar in economic history, combining the archival methodology of history with the quantitative statistical tools of economics.  John served as a visiting faculty member at many universities on several continents and was awarded prestigious prizes and fellowships for his work. These included Guggenheim, Danforth, Woodrow Wilson and National Science Foundation fellowships. In addition John was a visiting fellow at All Souls College at Oxford University.

 A few of Professor James' collegues wrote a rememberance of him that was read at his memorial service.  You can read the full document here:  John Allen James: A Scholarly Remembrance.


Job Search Resources

Looking for a job? Start here.

Refer to our Job Search Resources for Econ Majors handout as a starting point in your career search! The document includes job databases, guides, and University-specific resources.


Career Events

Resources and Links for U.Va. Career Events

Economics Career Office Events for the 2014-2015 spring semester


Date    Time               Program                                                                                                         Location


1/21     6:30 pm           Case Interview Prep Workshop with Bates White Consulting                         Monroe120


1/23     11:00 am         Internship Panel with Economics Majors*                                                        Newcomb Hall Commonwealth


1/30     All Day             Berkeley Research Group Case Competition Presentation                            Preregistration Required


2/6       11:00 am         Career Panel: Economic Development*                                                          Newcomb Hall Commonwealth


2/20     10:00 am         Coffee Chat w/Bloomberg Tax Reporter Marc Heller                                       Monroe 235


2/27     10:00 am         Skype Coffee Chat with Health Policy Advisor, Senate Finance Committee   Monroe 235

                                    Econ alum Katie Meyer Simeon (Econ ’08, Batten MPP ’09)


3/3       5:00 pm           Coffee Chat: Environmental Economics with                                                   Monroe 235

                                    Professor Spencer Phillips


3/5       5:00 pm           Coffee Chat: Marketing and Advertising with                                                     Monroe 235

                                    George Michie, Chief Data Strategist and Co-Founder RKG (M.A. ’90)


3/26     5:30 pm           Career Panel: Entrepreneurship*                                                                      Newcomb Hall Kaleidoscope

                                    Moderated by Professor Beatrice Boulu-Reshef


4/10     11:00 am         Career Panel: Real Estate Careers – Development and Finance                    Newcomb Hall Commonwealth


4/17     11:00 am         Coffee Chat: Graduate School and Life in Academia                                       Monroe 235



All Programs Require Registration through Econnect

(Dates and times may change so check Econnect regularly for updates.)


*Open to All majors, sign up required on ECO Job Board

Economics Career Office Events for the 2014-2015 fall semester:

Fall 2014 Career Panels for Economics Majors (Students, click here to register in Econnect. Registration is required. All programs request at least business casual dress.)
Events are held Fridays at Noon in Monroe 118, except where indicated by an asterisk. Receptions follow in Monroe 120



Corporate Finance (in distinct industries or firms)  


*Investment Banking


Consulting - Economic and Management


Investment Management


Big Data


***Consumer Services (Includes marketing, manufacturing, and supply chain)


Public Policy Research and Think Tanks


***Internship Panel - Current majors speak about their summer internships (open to all A & S students). Consider attending before the UCS job fair the following week.


Government, Non-profit, and Associations


International Development



*This program will be held at 10:00 am in Newcomb Hall South Meeting Room.
**This program will be held on Thursday 10/9 at 6:00 pm in Monroe 116.
***This program will be held in Monroe 124.

Students must register through Econnect to attend.

Employers are welcome to contact the ECO about participating.


The events below are sponsored by the University and other career offices and are open to all students. The ECO encourages all majors to attend these events.

University Career Services, (UCS), provides a career events calendar and links to Career Fairs sponsored by UCS, the McIntire School of Commerce, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, among others. 

Before and after these events, be sure to refer back to our handy Career Planning Timeline for Economics Majors!

University Career Fairs and Events:











2014 Department of Economics Graduation Ceremony

To view the 2014 economics graduation ceremony, please click here

Spring 2015 Course announcements and New Faculty!

The Department of Economics is delighted to welcome Karim Chalak, Denis Nekipelov, Andrew Kloosterman, and Peter Troyan as new faculty members!

Please read more about our new professors below (listed in alphabetical order). If you have any questions please feel free to contact Elysia (Ellie) Fung,


These are exciting times for the Economics program! The University is investing in hiring faculty in Economics as well as strengthening the program offerings. Let me introduce the four new faculty members who are teaching in 2014-15 (more on ):


  • Denis Nekipelov, who comes to UVa from Berkeley after receiving his PhD at Duke, uses advanced methods to study auctions and firm behavior in the context of high-dimensional data. Mr. Nekipelov is currently teaching Econometric Methods (ECON 4720).
  • Karim Chalik, who received his PhD from UC-San Diego, is an econometrician who uses advanced methods to consider inference in difficult modeling contexts such as when data are of poor quality or when there are networks interactions. Mr. Chalik will be teaching Introduction to Econometrics (ECON 3720) in Spring 2015.
  • Pete Troyan comes to UVa from Stanford as a micro-theorist who is working on problems of “mechanism design”, which concerns allocation in activities like school choice or job assignment in the military where prices may not be assigned to choices. Mr. Troyan will be teaching Intermediate Microeconomics (ECON 3010) in Spring 2015.
  • Andrew Kloosterman received his PhD from NYU and has an active research portfolio examining how information flows, including whether announcements are public or private, affects firm and individual decision making. Mr. Kloosterman will be teaching Intermediate Microeconomics (ECON 3010) in Spring 2015.

In addition to familiar upper level courses, we are pleased that we are able to offer new courses taught by distinguished professional Economists from outside the University, thanks in part to private support through the Innovation & Excellence Fund. These courses include Economics of the Middle East taught by Julia Devlin from the Brookings Institution, Advanced Money and Banking taught by John Weinberg who is a senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, and Empirical Finance taught by Steve Peterson who is the director of research for the Virginia Retirement System. See the full descriptions below.

            Again, we are pleased that we are able to offer terrific courses in Spring 2015 and beyond. We hope you continue to thrive within this department and at the University! Please send any questions to


ECON 3630: Economics of the Middle East and North Africa

Prerequisite: Econ 2010 and 2020.
This course surveys growth and economic development challenges facing countries in the Middle East/North Africa region (MENA) with an emphasis on theory and practice. Topics covered include development strategies since 1950 as well as specific challenges facing policymakers today including (i) managing oil price volatility and economic diversification; (ii) rising water scarcity and agricultural policy; (iii) demographic dynamism, high rates of youth unemployment and segmented labor markets; (iv) low productivity and generally weak trade and investment performance; (v) rising inequality and (vi) challenges of development in conflict and transition environments. The course adopts a problem-solving approach, taking into account political, social as well as economic realities and includes case studies and analysis of specific country and sector programs. Course requirements include a development project competition in which students design a development project for a MENA country and present the concept to a group of development practitioners for review and commentary.  

Julia Devlin

Ms. Devlin is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution and has been a Lecturer in Economics at the University of Virginia where she has taught a course on Economics of the Middle East and North Africa. She has been a consultant for the World Bank Group and other development institutions in addition to her work with Global Economy and Development at Brookings. From 1998-2011 she was a staff member at the World Bank Group and held a number of positions focusing on country operations and development policy with specific emphasis on the Middle East and North Africa as well as issues of commodity dependence, trade liberalization, private sector development and development effectiveness. She has published articles and books in these areas and maintained a number of academic affiliations including teaching courses at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, New York University as well as the University of Virginia.  She began her career as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in 1995 and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University (1995), an M.A. in Economics from the University of Virginia (1993), an M.A. in Arab Studies from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service (1990) and a B.A. in Economics from the University of Virginia (1988).


ECON 4559: Advanced Money & Banking

Prerequisites ECON 3010 and ECON 3020

Studies money and banking beyond the intermediate level. Studies the role of money in the economic system, with emphasis on monetary policy and theory. Also addresses the sources of financial instability, with an application of the theory of financial intermediation to the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the implications for financial regulation.

John Weinberg

Mr. Weinberg is senior vice president and research director for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s Research Department. Before joining the Richmond Fed in 1992, he held a faculty position at Purdue University. Mr. Weinberg is the author of numerous papers and publications. His research interests include contract theory, financial intermediation and industrial organization, and he leads the Richmond Fed Research Department’s work on monetary and financial stability policy. Mr. Weinberg holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania (1979) and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota (1987).


ECON 4360: Empirical Finance

Prerequisite: ECON 4720 (minimum grade B)

Develop and analyze properties of pricing models for fixed income instruments, equity, and derivative securities.  Construct optimal portfolios of these securities, analyze their behavior and risk characteristics and manage these risks to various objective functions.  Test various theories of asset pricing and asset allocation and draw from these elements that guide us in financial decision-making. 

Steve Peterson

Mr. Peterson is the Director of Research and Senior Risk Officer at the Virginia Retirement System and a former Associate Professor of Economics at Virginia Commonwealth University.  His areas of expertise are in Econometrics, Monetary Theory, and Finance.  Mr. Peterson holds a B.A. in Political Science and a M.A. in Economics from Bowling Green State University and a Ph.D. in Economics from Indiana University.

The Secret Life of Ken Elzinga

Professor has written four murder mysteries under a pseudonym


Professor Ken Elzinga would kill to teach you economics. On paper, at least.

The revered U.Va. professor—who has taught more than 40,000  U.Va. students since 1967—has all the while been penning murder mysteries on the side, under the pen name Marshall Jevons, with a protagonist who solves crime using economic theory.....

To read Ms. Jaffee's article, please click here


Economics Spring 2015 Graduation Information- May 16,2015

For information on the Economics 2015 Graduation please click here