Home economics, or family and consumer sciences, is a subject concerning human development, personal and family finances, consumer issues, housing and interior design, nutrition and food preparation, as well as textiles and apparel. Home economics courses are offered around the world and across multiple educational levels. Internationally, it is coordinated by the International Federation for Home Economics. Historically, the purpose of these courses was to professionalize housework, to provide intellectual fulfillment for women, and to emphasize the value of "women's work" in society and to prepare them for the traditional roles of sexes. However, it has since evolved into family and consumer sciences to cover additional subject matter outside of just home life and wellness. Family and consumer sciences are taught as an elective or required course in secondary education, as a continuing education course in institutions, and at the primary level. Beginning as home economics in the United States, the course was a key part of the education system for teaching one the art of taking care of a household. In the 19th and early 20th century, it was a woman-dominated course, teaching women to be homemakers and efficient household managers. The American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences was created as an answer to more Americans desiring youth to learn vocational skills. Politics played a role in home economics education, and it wasn’t until later in the century that the course shifted from being woman-dominated to now required for both sexes. Now family and consumer science have been included in the broader subject of Career Technical Education, a program that teaches skilled trades, applied sciences, modern technologies, and career preparation. Despite the subjects over the past century, there has been a major decline in home economics courses offered by educational institutions.
Family and consumer sciences was previously known in the United States as home economics, often abbreviated "home ec" or "HE". In 1994, various organizations, including the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, adopted the new term "Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS)" to reflect the fact that the field covers aspects outside of home life and wellness.
The field has also been known by other names over many decades, including human sciences, home science, domestic economy, and (especially many decades ago) the domestic arts, the domestic sciences, or the domestic arts and sciences. In addition, home economics has a strong historic relationship to the field of human ecology, and since the 1960s a number of university-level home economics programs have been renamed "human ecology" programs, including Cornell University's program.
FCS is taught worldwide, as an elective or a required course in secondary education, and in many tertiary and continuing education institutions. Sometimes it is also taught in primary education. International cooperation in the field is coordinated by the International Federation for Home Economics, established in 1908.
In the majority of elementary (K-6) and public (K-8) schools in Canada, home economics is not taught. General health education is provided as part of a physical education class. In High Schools or Secondary Schools, there is no specific home economics course, but students may choose related courses to take, such as Family Studies, Food and Nutrition, or Health and Safety.
A home economics class in Toronto, Ontario, 1911.
A Home Economics class receiving instructions on cooking. Ottawa, Ontario, 1959.
Between 1880 and 1900, the Reifenstein schools concept was initiated by Ida von Kortzfleisch, a Prussian noble woman and early German feminist. Reifenstein refers to Reifenstein im Eichsfeld, a municipality in Thuringia and site of the first permanent school. Reifensteiner Verband comprised from 1897 till 1990 about 15 own schools and cooperated with further operators. About 40 wirtschaftliche Frauenschulen, rural economist women schools were connected to the Reifensteiner concept and movement and allowed higher education for women already in the German Kaiserreich. The 1913 doctorate of Johannes Kramer compared different concepts of home economic education worldwide and praised the system e.g. in Iowa.
Home economics are known in Indonesia as Family Training and Welfare (Indonesian: Pembinaan dan Kesejahteraan Keluarga, PKK). It is rooted on a 1957 conference on home economics held in Bogor; it became state policy in 1972.
Home economics was taught to girls in the junior cycle of secondary school in the 20th century. It was added to the senior cycle Leaving Certificate in 1971, at a time when elimination of school fees was increasing participation. In subsequent decades new co-educational community schools saw more boys studying the subject. Increased third-level education participation from the 1990s saw a decline in practical subjects not favoured for third-level entry requirements, including home economics.
Starting from the Gentile reform, home economics was taught in the lower middle school and in the new unified middle school established in 1963. The name changed to Technical Applications, differentiated into male and female, which was taught until 1977 when it changed to the title of Technical Education, which no longer differed in relation to the sex of the pupils.
In South Korea, the field is most commonly known as "consumer science" (소비자학, sobija-hak). The field began in schools taught by Western missionaries in the late 19th century. The first college-level department of family science was established at Ewha Womans University in Seoul in 1929.
In Sweden, Home economics is commonly known as "home- and consumer studies" (hem- och konsumentkunskap). The subject is mandatory from middle years until high school in both public and private schools but is regarded as one of the smallest subjects in the Swedish school system. For many decades, the subject was only called "hemkunskap" and had a strong focus on the traditional common tasks of a home, family and practical cooking and cleaning. After the 2011 Swedish school reform, the curriculum have been restructured with more focus on the topics of health, economy and environment which includes Consumer economics as well as Consumer awareness.
In the UK, Home Economics was once a GCSE qualification offered to secondary school pupils, but since 2015 been replaced with a course entitled Food and Nutrition which focuses more on the nutritional side of food to economics.
In Scotland, Home Economics was replaced by Hospitality: Practical Cooking at National 3,4 and 5 level and Health and Food Technology at National 3, 4, 5, Higher and Advanced Higher. The awarding body is the SQA.
Over the years, homemaking in the United States has been a foundational piece of the education system, particularly for women. These homemaking courses, called home economics, have had a prevalent presence in secondary and higher education since the 19th century. By definition, home economics is "the art and science of home management," meaning that the discipline incorporates both creative and technical aspects into its teachings. Home economics courses often consist of learning how to cook, how to do taxes, and how to perform child care tasks. In the United States, home economics courses have been a key part of learning the art of taking care of a household. One of the first to champion the economics of running a home was Catherine Beecher, sister to Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Since the nineteenth century, schools have been incorporating home economics courses into their education programs. In the United States, the teaching of home economics courses in higher education greatly increased with the Morrill Act of 1862. Signed by Abraham Lincoln, the Act granted land to each state or territory in America for higher educational programs in vocational arts, specifically mechanical arts, agriculture, and home economics. Such land grants allowed for people of a wider array of social classes to receive better education in important trade skills.
Home economics courses mainly taught students how to cook, sew, garden, and take care of children. The vast majority of these programs were dominated by women. Home economics allowed for women to receive a better education while also preparing them for a life of settling down, doing the chores, and taking care of the children while their husbands became the breadwinners. At this time, homemaking was largely accessible to middle and upper class white women whose families could afford secondary schooling.
In the late 19th century, the Lake Placid Conferences took place. The conferences consisted of a group of educators working together to elevate the discipline to a legitimate profession. Originally, they wanted to call this profession "oekology", the science of right living. However, "home economics" was ultimately chosen as the official term in 1899.
The first book on home economics was Mrs. Welch's Cookbook, published in 1884 at Iowa State by Mary Beaumont Welch. Welch's classes on domestic economy were the first in the nation to give college credit on the subject.
Home economics in the United States education system increased in popularity in the early twentieth century. It emerged as a movement to train women to be more efficient household managers. At the same moment, American families began to consume many more goods and services than they produced. To guide women in this transition, professional home economics had two major goals: to teach women to assume their new roles as modern consumers and to communicate homemakers’ needs to manufacturers and political leaders. The development of the profession progressed from its origins as an educational movement to its identity as a source of consumer expertise in the interwar period to its virtual disappearance by the 1970s. An additional goal of the field was to "rationalize housework," or lend the social status of a profession to it, based on a theory that housework could be intellectually fulfilling to women engaged in it, along with any emotional or relational benefits.
In 1909, Ellen Swallow Richards founded the American Home Economics Association (now called the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences). From 1900 to 1917, more than thirty bills discussed in Congress dealt with issues of American vocational education and, by association, home economics. Americans wanted more opportunities for their young people to learn vocational skills and to learn valuable home and life skills. However, home economics was still dominated by women and women had little access to other vocational trainings. As stated by the National Education Association (NEA) on the distribution of males and females in vocations, “one-third of our menfolk are in agriculture, and one-third in non-agricultural productive areas; while two-thirds of our women are in the vocation of homemaking”.
Practice homes were added to American universities in the early 1900s in order to model a living situation, although the all-women ‘team’ model used for students was different from prevailing expectations of housewives. For example, women were graded on collaboration, while households at the time assumed that women would be working independently. Nevertheless, the practice homes were valued. These practicum courses took place in a variety of environments including single-family homes, apartments, and student dorm-style blocks. For a duration of a number of weeks, students lived together while taking on different roles and responsibilities, such as cooking, cleaning, interior decoration, hosting, and budgeting. Some classes also involved caring for young infants, temporarily adopted from orphanages. Childcare practicums were often included at the same time as other classwork, requiring students to configure their intellectual and home lives as compatible with one another. According to Megan Elias, "in the ideal, domestic work was as important as work done outside the home and it was performed by teams of equals who rotated roles. Each member of the team was able to live a life outside the home as well as inside the home, ideally, one that both informed her domestic work and was informed by it. This balance between home and the wider world was basic to the movement."
There was a great need across the United States to continue improving the vocational and homemaking education systems because demand for work was apparent after World War I and II. Therefore, in 1914 and 1917, women's groups, political parties, and labor coalitions worked together in order to pass the Smith-Lever Act and the Smith-Hughes Act. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 and the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 created federal funds for "vocational education agriculture, trades and industry, and homemaking" and created the Office of Home Economics. With this funding, the United States was able to create more homemaking educational courses all across the country.
Throughout the 1940s, Iowa State College (later University) was the only program granting a master of science in household equipment. However, this program was centered on the ideals that women should acquire practical skills and a scientifically based understanding of how technology in the household works. For example, women were required to disassemble and then reassemble kitchen machinery so they could understand basic operations and understand how to repair the equipment. In doing so, Iowa State effectively created culturally acceptable forms of physics and engineering for women in an era when these pursuits were not generally accessible to them.
Throughout the latter part of twentieth century, home economics courses became more inclusive. In 1963, Congress passed the Vocational Education Act, which granted even more funds to vocational education job training. Home economics courses started being taught across the nation to both boys and girls by way of the rise of second-wave feminism. This movement pushed for gender equality, leading to equality of education. In 1970, the course became required for both men and women. Starting in 1994, home economics courses in the United States began being referred to as "family and consumer sciences" in order to make the class appear more inclusive. With desegregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, men and women of all backgrounds could equally learn how to sew, cook, and balance a checkbook.
In the 1980s, "domestic celebrities" rose to stardom. Celebrities, such as Martha Stewart, created television programs, books, magazines, and websites about homemaking and home economics, which attested to the continued importance of independent experts and commercial mass-media organizations in facilitating technological and cultural change in consumer products and services industries.
Today FCS is part of the broader Career Technical Education umbrella. Career and technical education is a term applied to programs that specialize in skilled trades, applied sciences, modern technologies, and career preparation. While traditional Home Economics focused on preparing women to care for a husband, family and home, Family Consumer Science continues to adapt its course offerings to meet the needs of today’s students both for personal growth and professional opportunities. Students can take classes in culinary arts, education, food science, nutrition, health and wellness, interior design, child development, personal finance, textiles, apparel, and retailing. Students who take FCS classes also have the opportunity to join the student organization Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America.“ Since 1945, FCCLA members have been making a difference in their families, careers, and communities by addressing important personal, work, and societal issues through Family and Consumer Sciences education.” Through participating in FCS and FCCLA integrated events students develop 21st Century skills such as applied academic skills, critical thinking, resource management, information use, and interpersonal skills.
Present day, the prevalence of FCS and CTE courses help prepare students for careers rather than traditional courses that prepare one for university rather than life skills. Also, homemaking and home economics courses have developed a negative connotation because of the negative gender bias associated with home economics courses. Despite this, homemaking is now socially acceptable for both men and women to partake in. In the United States, both men and women are expected to take care of the home, the children, and the finances. More women are pursuing higher education rather than homemaking. In 2016, 56.4% of college students were female as opposed to 34.5% in 1956. Some schools are starting to incorporate life skill courses back into their curriculum, but as a whole, home economics courses have been in major decline in the past century.
In 2012 there were only 3.5 million students enrolled in FCS secondary programs, a decrease of 38 percent over a decade. In 2020 the AAFCS estimates that there are 5 million students enrolled in FCS programs