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Home Economics

Scholarship And Practice, International Contributions

Home economics as a field of study in the United States was formed before the start of the twentieth century by a group of women, most of whom were scientifically educated and reform-oriented, as well as men who were interested in applying science and philosophy to improving everyday life. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity for educated women in the male-dominated disciplines, they met at the Lake Placid Club in upstate New York to create their own interdisciplinary field of study and profession. The Lake Placid Conferences on Home Economics (1899–1909) culminated in the founding of the American Home Economics Association (AHEA) and the Journal of Home Economics. The field's mission has been to improve family wellbeing by enabling families to be successful in their reciprocal relationships with the environments in which they function. With the industrial revolution, some family functions shifted to factories, hotels, bakeries, restaurants, nursing homes, and schools, making policy concerns relevant. As a result, the field expanded its work, adding development, delivery, and evaluation of consumer goods and services; educating policy makers about concerns of the field; and attempting to shape social and even global change. Consequently, the field has provided many career options for both men and women in not-for-profit organizations, businesses, and government.

Social changes in the United States prompted the creation of specialization in many fields. These changes included exponential knowledge growth, the bustling economy during and after World War II, better public education that prepared more people for higher education, expanding public support for higher education, increasing government support of research, and developing specialized accreditation. Other changes also encouraged specilization within home economics; they included diversification of family structures, the aging population, increases in working women, technological changes, the women's movement, and increases in the number of men in the field.

For the first sixty years of the twentieth century, five specialty areas made up the core of this research-based field, but between 1970 and 2000, more distinct specializations developed (Richards 2000). The five specializations evolved as follows:

  1. Foods and nutrition, and institutional management added dietetics and food science;
  2. Child development and family relations later broadened to human development and family relations, adding family therapy as a specialization;
  3. Clothing and textiles became apparel and textiles and added textile science and merchandising of consumer goods;
  4. Housing and home furnishings developed into interior design of commercial as well as home interiors with particular emphasis on enhancing human well being;
  5. Consumer economics and home management evolved into family resource management, then family management, while consumer economics remained a specialization.

The name, home economics, became increasingly inaccurate in describing the work of this discipline with subspecialties studying different family functions and problems. In 1993 the new name, family and consumer sciences, was selected at a conference held in Scottsdale, Arizona, entitled Positioning the Profession for the 21st Century. Four of the five attending professional organizations (the American Home Economics Association, the American Vocational Association's Home Economic Division, the National Association of Extension Home Economics, and the National Council of Administrators of Home Economics) adopted the name change in 1994. The fifth chose human sciences instead. Internationally, the field is referred to primarily as home economics, but other names such as human ecology and home science are also used.

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaOther Marriage & Family Topics