Possible Extended Essay Topics Economics


It’s that time of the year for IB Economics students all over the world. Time to choose their extended essay topics! The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is a rigorous, two-year diploma program for 11th and 12th graders. In addition two three “higher level” courses and three “standard level” courses chosen from each of the six subject areas (maths, physical sciences, social sciences, fine arts, language A and language B), students must also complete a major research project over the two year program. This “extended essay” is externally assessed and counts towards their points and their final diploma score.

As an IB Economics teacher, it is my duty to assist students who choose to write an economics extended essay. This year I will supervise four Zurich International School students, who will be researching topics ranging from the competitive nature of the local fast food market, to Malaysia’s economic policy and the country’s development, to the health insurance industry in Switzerland and Brazil’s coffee market. Helping students fine tune their research topics and refine their essay is an exciting and rewarding process.

This afternoon I received an email from an IB Economics student in Berlin. Here’s what she had to say:

Dear Mr.Welker :

I’m currently an IB Grade 11 student studying at Berlin International School, and i would like to write my extended essay in Economics. Your blog has provided me with so many ideas now that the problems is now i don’t know what to choose or how to narrow it down . My ideas are mainly focusing on China’s economy, because I’m from Taiwan, I thought it would be an advantage for me, since i can understand information if it was written in Chinese.

I’m thinking of writing about the following topics:

  • Limiting factors of China’s economic expansion (inequality, inflation, protectionism from other countries like US, spending and saving habits of the Chinese, export and import) and maybe the possible future of China’s economy, because while some people say it’s going to help lift the global economy out of recession, some say they see an economic crash.( but I’m not sure if as a high school student is able to do that, at the same time I think one of the criterias is to discover something new ? )
  • Another thing i also find interesting is about Chinese currency and how it might solve inflation (I came across this from one of your blog posts about China at May 2008) or what policies do governments use to maintain RMB without buying US exports and the possible effects on other countries as a result of weak Chinese currency

I really can’t decide which one to do, therefore i would really appreciate it if you could advice me and give me some feedbacks. 🙂

Looking forward to your responses !

I was happy to receive an email from such an enthusiastic young economist. Below is my response and advice to the student:


Your ideas are very interesting… it’s impressive as an IB Econ teacher to see a student as thoughtful and reflective on the EE topic as you are. Here are my thoughts on your proposed topics:

I think your first topic would be particularly difficult to research and write a good essay on. In all honesty, not many of the factors that you identify (inequality, inflation, protectionism from other countries like US, spending and saving habits of the Chinese, export and import) have really limited China’s economic growth. China’s growth has been unprecedented in the world in modern history. Inequality could be viewed as a result of the rapid growth the country has experienced; such inequality has been experienced in many countries during their early stages of economic development. Inflation is also a symptom of rapid growth, but in most cases China has keep inflation under control. It has been the lack of protectionism from countries like the US which have led to the massive growth of China’s export industry. If anything, China’s own protectionist policy of managing the value of the RMB at such a low rate has also contributed to its rapid growth.

Even Chinese spending and savings habits have contributed to the growth of the country’s economy. A high savings rate enables the Chinese government to tap the country’s savings to buy US government bonds, which keeps interest rates low in America, the dollar strong, and helps finance the US government’s budget deficits, meaning lower taxes and more disposable income among American consumers who turn around and import hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods every year, further fueling growth in China. With a lower savings rate, China would experience fewer net exports. On the other hand, they’d experience more domestic consumption, which is probably what we should expect to see in the future if Beijing begins to loosens its control of the RMB and allows it to strengthen. Chinese will then begin consuming more of their own output and buying more imports from abroad, while net exports decrease in response to the rising prices of Chinese goods in the west. Domestic consumption will begin to replace exports as domestic savings decreases.

I like your second proposal much better. Since you are in Germany, I would consider researching the effects of China’s exchange rate controls on a particular industry in which both German and Chinese firms compete. I had a student in Shanghai who had a similar background to yours; he was of Chinese descent, but born in Germany. He spoke both German and Mandarin. He researched the impact of China’s low cost automobile parts manufacturers on the German auto parts and automobile industries. He did not focus exclusively on the exchange rate, but it was part of his research.

The IB really likes when you research local markets. If you examine the impact of the weak RMB on, say, US net exports, it’s not nearly as impressive as if you focus your investigation on German firms. You may have friends at your school whose parents work for firms who do business with or compete against Chinese firms. Interview them! You could measure historical exchange rate data between the RMB and the Euro, explain the mechanism by which China manages its currency against the US dollar but then explain how that also affects exchange rates with the Euro, then examine the impact on exports and imports from Germany to China and vis versa in response to the fluctuations of the RMB/Euro exchange rate. America is not the only country that wants China to let the RMB float. Europe’s exports are also affected by the weak RMB.

So that’s my suggestion. Take your two homes (well, not really as you’re Taiwanese, but close enough!) and focus on them. Choose one or two industries that exist in Germany AND China, and research the effects of free trade, China’s entry to the WTO, China’s exchange rate policies, and so on, to draw conclusions about how China’s entry to the global economy has affected firms in Germany.

Good luck, I hope this helps! Click on the “China” category on my blog to find all the dozens of articles I’ve written about China over the last three years!

Mr Welker

About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

Tags: advice, Extended Essay, IB Economics

In my opinion, the Extended Essay requirement of the Diploma Programme, is one of the more enjoyable and challenging parts of the course. Students endeavor to write a mini-thesis on an original topic, based on a subject on their choice. Economics and Business Management seem to be common subject choices and I regularly supervise 4-5 students each year. Students pick topics which are either related to Singapore, or a country where they call home. In recent years, Singapore has provided plenty of original topics relating to recessions and government interventions.

Some of the recent research questions from my students include…

  1. To what extent will the policy of supplementary income payments be effective to boost the Gross Domestic Product of Japan in 2009?
  2. To what extent has the recession affected the consumption of demerit goods in Singapore?
  3. Are the movie industries in Singapore recession-proof?
  4. To what extent has price changes affected the demand for public transport in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area?
  5. To what extent are the HDB flats affordable in Singapore from 2000 to 2010?
  6. How effective are Electronic Road Pricing policies in reducing congestion in Singapore?
  7. To what extent has the government intervention in the market for hybrid cars lead to rise in demand in Singapore?

Some of these questions are good, but some questions are too broad in their focus. A good research question is essential to a good Extended Essay. Three of these topics received “A” grades.

What makes a good research question?

Any research question must be answered within the 4000 word limit, and therefore needs to be limited in both scope and economic content. A question which focuses on consumers in Singapore is in my opinion too broad. Selecting a cohort of consumers, such as working age males, would be a more focused approach. Limiting the number of economic concepts covered is also important. A good essay will explain one concept in sufficient depth and make links through the analysis to other related concepts. For example, an explanation of market failure could include links to elasticity but shouldn’t go any further to explain effects on economic growth, or inflation.

The way the research question is phrased is equally important. A closed question should be restructured to a question which can quantified. Rather than “what is the effect of government interventions on the market for hybrid cars” it could be restructured as “to what extent has the government intervention ….led to changes in demand.” Students can then conduct in-depth analysis which explains how much the demand has changed, or to justify the degree of success or failure of the policy. To simply state that,the intervention has lead to an increase in demand is too basic.

What kind of information should an extended essay include?

A good essay includes an innovative range of data, which could be either from a secondary or primary source, but preferably both. In my opinion, an essay with a good selection of primary data that is checked against other secondary research is a good approach. Too often students rely on the internet for all of their secondary research. They will be penalised for this approach in some of the criteria. The holistic judgment (Criteria K) is judged by the teacher and examiner and will reward students that adopt innovative or clever ways to collect data. Students can sometimes compensate in an essay with lots of secondary data by showing examples of in-depth analysis that makes links between separate pieces of secondary data. A survey of movie attendance during a recession, checked against secondary data on movie takings and consumer incomes will provide sufficient resources to analysis.

How could students improve their overall marks in an Extended Essay?

Each extended essay is assessed against a set of criteria. The criteria is very detailed and includes eleven different catagories. The highest level in some of these categories are easier to attain than others. For instance every student should achieve the highest level in each of the following. Criteria G,H and I

It is extremely important that economic terminology is used and that definitions of key terms are provided.This will clearly enhance the academic tone of the essay. Definitions should be precise. For example, a discussion of elasticity should refer to percentage orproportionate changes as opposed to “big” or “small” changes.

“Consistent” is the key word here: the conclusion should develop out of the argument and not introduceany new material. Any obvious limitations to the analysis/argument should be restated here, as evidenceof critical awareness. For example, if a survey is carried out but the sample size is deemed to be rathersmall, then it could be stated that the sample size might limit the validity of the conclusion drawn. Ifinterviews are carried out, it could be noted that the ideological bias of the interviewees might limit thevalidity of the conclusions drawn.

This criterion relates to the extent to which the essay conforms to academic standards about the way inwhich research papers should be presented. The presentation of essays that omit a bibliography or thatdo not give references for quotations is deemed unacceptable (level 0). Essays that omit one of therequired elements—title page, table of contents, page numbers—are deemed no better than satisfactory(maximum level 2), while essays that omit two of them are deemed poor at best (maximum level 1).Additionally, if diagrams are poorly presented or if the information shown on the diagram is unclear, onemark should be deducted. (Source: IB DP Economics – Syllabus – first exams 2005)

For several other criteria, it appears harder to achieve the top band. The harder criteria involve analytical and evaluative writing. There is no easy way to gain high marks, but I think students need to follow the criteria very carefully to ensure they gain all of the “basic” marks. Below is a sample checklist which I have found useful. Students need to work through the list to ensure they have completed the essential parts of the Extended Essay.

Econ EE Checklist (accessed from IB Online Workshop – previous examiners)

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