This blog is about economics. But it’s written for people who “don’t do economics”.
I’m going to try and change your views about what economics is and what it isn’t. I really hope it empowers you to discover you know far more than you think and to use this confidence in your own decision making.
Most of us have heard of Home Economics. We may have even studied it in school.
But, have you ever wondered why Home Economics focuses so little on individual finance when it uses the word ‘economics’ in its title?
Why was it only ever taught as a school cooking class where you made a soggy apple pie – without the pie base – that even the dog didn’t want to eat?!
OK, so you may have done a bit of sewing too. But…not a lot. And that was only when the school needles weren’t bent and little Jimmy Robertson, the class clown, wasn’t stabbing you in the arm with the only sharp one in the box!
In all seriousness, practical skills such as sewing, cooking, mending and making are pretty important to be properly independent.
But, the real benefit of home economics is the economics bit.
Economics is not only about financial stuff. Economics is the way you think about the information that helps you to make decisions. Decisions you can justify to yourself (and hubby or partner) and that you won’t later regret.
Economics is a brilliant way of learning to read the world that helps you with anything you want to do. Whether your thing is running a cafe, buying a house, or choosing a coffee, economics will help you to thrive.
Home economic thinking and why you need it
Mrs Isabella Beeton penned the first known book about home economics in 1861. She thought herself very “courageous” for having attempted it as it was a lot of work apparently. But, she thought she’d better try because of “the discomfort and suffering which I had seen brought upon men and women by household mismanagement”. [Mrs Beeton’s Household Management, 1861.]
Why, thanks, Mrs B, I’m glad you did.
Turns out that after getting used to the slightly haughty Victorian manner, the point of her book was to make life easier for people. And actually, that’s what home economics is all about.
Mrs. B’s classic contains a lot of great food recipes, interesting cleaning directions, and medical advice that’ll make you cry. (Such as mercury pills…uuuggghhhh!). It was written for her time.
But, she also wrote about controversial issues like factory farming. Many of us hate the idea of factory farming. But it still happens and if you don’t want to eat food from factory farms, it’s really important you know about them and can find alternatives. This is a great example of a home economic decision made with home economic thinking.
To live how you want to live and to properly support causes that are important to you, be it factory farming, fair trade, sustainable forests, or anything else, it’s absolutely vital that you understand the world we live in.
In order to run your shop or cafe, you need to understand your market and beat your competition. When buying a house you need to know the area and consider your mortgage. To follow a vegan diet and not end up malnourished, you need to understand nutrition.
To be informed and to be able to consider your options, you need this way of thinking.
You must be able to question everything you see and hear. It’s really important to be able to weigh up the evidence for yourself, rather than becoming a victim of newspaper hacks, Russian internet bots, and any others with their own [irritating] agendas.
Only then can you do what’s best for you. This is home economic thinking and why you need it.
The Victorians called this home management. I call it everyday economics. Because that’s what it is.
Real Home Economics
So, what does this everyday economics involve then?
Real home economics, or home ec, is:
- economic thinking in your home;
- It’s about the relationships between each of us and our families;
- It’s about how we connect with our communities and the environment where we live; and
- It’s about being able to live in a sustainable way.
“The art and science of home management” sums up home economics pretty well. It’s creative (the ‘how’ we do things) but also technical (the ‘why’ we do things). Both are so important in decision making.
Often you can easily find out how to do things but knowing why you do them is much harder.
For example, you may want to buy a house and need a mortgage. You can easily find out how to get one by asking the bank about its [usually painful] process.
But do you know why a particular mortgage best suits your circumstances? Or is the bank advising you of a specific product to help grow its own profits?
Economics brings together many different ways of ‘reading’ the world
These ways can be through food, health, financial, consumer, or environmental factors. Economics uses things like knowledge, skills, culture, and behaviour to make decisions that can improve the quality of your life.
Home economics is so much more than making stuff.
It’s about design, mindfulness, food sustainability and textile production. It’s about the impact of our home decisions on the environment. This is really important, especially now we are learning more about global issues such as climate change.
Running your home is becoming more and more scientific
And it’s not likely to change anytime soon. We are learning more all the time about the impact of toxic chemicals on the environment. These toxins can come from our food, beauty and hygiene routines.
Many of my friends now use products that don’t contain microbeads, palm oil from non-sustainable sources or eggs from battery hens. They want food grown without synthetic fertilisers. These decisions are made because of home economics in action, weighing up the pros and cons and developing your own conclusions.
The idea behind home economics is to manage your home in the most resourceful and effective way possible.
This helps our children learn to be efficient, considered and involved members of our larger communities.
“Upon the privacy and sanctity of the home rests the strength of democracy” (Shelter and Clothing: A Textbook of the Household Arts, 1913)
Pretty big statement, huh? But, what bigger benefit is there than that…?!
Why do people think home economics is outdated?
The quick answer to this question was summed up at the beginning of this blog page – soggy apple pie! [And class clowns.] It was never taught as a serious subject in my school.
I recently read a newspaper article where the author said she thought home economics was old fashioned. So she had mixed feelings when she found out home ec was to be scrapped as an examination subject in the UK.
Home economics was state-mandated sexism.
In her experience, boys did woodwork, and girls did cookery (called home economics). But, cooking nutritious food to look after herself was a good thing, apparently, [Although she didn’t say if making tea towel holders from wood was also a good thing.]
However, at my school, boys did cookery too. And girls did woodwork. [With a female teacher, no less – for both classes.] We made lemonade, apple pie, and wooden tea towel holders. However, I don’t remember learning about the nutrition involved, why something is cooked a certain way, or the benefits of wood over plastic.
So, I do get where this journalist was coming from.
Quite frankly, what’s the point of making soggy apple pie when we can all study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subject, go to University, and tot up large amounts of student debt?
Unless there’s some actual substance to what you’re being taught – or reasons why – home economics will never be seen as a serious subject for those of us who may want a well-paid job. The irony, of course, is the analytical and practical skills you can learn with well-taught home economics are multi-disciplinary.
Many home economics resources do focus on more than cooking which is great. However, the common hub is often..housekeeping. As in Mrs. Beeton’s day. (There are some really great resources out there about this, btw.) And, although definitely useful, housekeeping is linked with…women. As is traditional.
Why Home Economics still matters
If by now I’ve managed to convince you that home economics is actually a way of thinking and not cooking soggy apple pie, then why it still matters is probably obvious to you.
If you’re still curious, you may want to consider why it still matters on the more tactical level too. By this, I mean why it’s still important on a basic day-to-day activity level.
Technology has changed how we conduct our basic daily activities; but they haven’t disappeared.
- washing machines,
- central heating and so on.
All these things still wash clothes, preserve food, keep us warm, etc. These are activities we have always done and will always need to do in some form. Technology has only changed how we do them and it has been of huge benefit to women’s rights because of it.
We ladies can now go out and earn a living for ourselves alongside the men if we want to. However, the flip side is that staying at home and ‘housekeeping’ is seen by some as very old-fashioned and regressive.
Apparently, you’re considered to be on a career break if you stay at home and look after your children. How can all that experience you’ve gained at home even begin to compare with the men and women who’ve been at work all this time…?! [So, the theory goes…]
In my own experience, you can study as many PRINCE2 project management courses as you like. Quite frankly, there’s no better way of learning on-the-job project management as there is when you’re rearing a family, running a home, and finding yourself by doing your thing, whatever that is.
The proof is actually in the pudding, as they say.
Because despite all the improvements in living standards, new technology, and highly paid careers, many of us still have a really hard time taking care of ourselves. And in most cases, it’s likely because we’ve never been taught either at school or at home.
Apparently, it could be that:
- we don’t cook and handle food as much anymore;
- we’re not as good at managing our finances;
- many people are worried about not getting enough vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. But getting too many is also a problem as they can be poisonous in big quantities;
- homelessness is a real concern, especially for young people;
- and that generally we’re uneasy about our effect on our environment.
So often you see people protesting or setting up petitions to try and get governments to ‘do something‘ about these issues. But it’s often the case that before the state steps in, an affected person is already near the bottom of a downward spiral. And it’s tragic.
Perhaps, a knowledge of home economics could have helped to prevent this by passing on real organisational life skills.
What happens to us if we run out of talented people who can build and fix things?
Manual work doesn’t seem to be as valued as much now as it used to be. The crazy thing is, this work often involves complex thinking, problem-solving, and analysis. These skills are so useful, especially in our digital world of big data.
There’s so much to home ec. I think it’s worth noting that universities have departments researching subjects like nutrition, hygiene, economics, and other home economic topics.
It used to be that women who graduated from these types of programmes could go on and teach. They could also get jobs in all sorts of areas, such as hospitals, hotels, restaurants, and also in government roles.
I don’t think you can say that home ec repressed these women. It potentially liberated them by preparing them for a career in the real world. I’m not convinced a GCSE in Business Studies does quite the same thing. (I can’t even remember what was taught in mine.)
Why home ec needs updating for 21st Century
The really strange thing about the repressed woman argument, is that it’s now socially acceptable for both men and women to stay at home. This is true in many places and is a fantastic thing for family flexibility. But providing the skills to do this well…is regressive, apparently. It makes no sense.
As we discussed, home economics is often thought to be only about home-based skills. Given the name, this is not really surprising. But now, our homes are connected to the outside world like never before! Think of the internet, global financial markets, and food supply chains to name only a few ways.
The more information is available to us, the more we learn about the choices people make and the priorities they have. We also learn more about how amazing we all can be, not just at here at home but right across the world.
Often, we are able to do the things we do because modern technology gives us the ability to do it
But technology brings its own challenges too. Computing skills are far more important now than they were when I was growing up in the 1980s/1990s.
Our children are growing up in a hyper-connected world. We need them to be able to live responsibly within it if they are to thrive. They need to learn skills such as how to keep financial and personal information safe online, how to communicate properly online, and how to combine their virtual and real lives in a healthy way, in addition to running a household.
According to The Money Charity, people in the UK owed £1,680 billion at the end of January 2020. This is a huge amount of money! Sadly, the news is often filled with stories about homes being repossessed, or people who can’t afford to pay their debts. In the US, consumer debt hit $14 trillion – yes TRILLION – only mid-way through 2019!
Some of this debt may be unavoidable. But some will be down to a lack of good money management.
Maybe this debt could be avoided if we were taught modern financial literacy? For example, how to manage current accounts, the difference between credit and debit cards, how to save for the long-term, how to save for retirement, etc
And because much of the world is now a market economy, why do we not learn about stock markets? About how to invest sensibly?
This type of information is available. However, it’s dotted around numerous places and often written for those who already understand it. This is why I’ve created Fitzonomics – to focus it in one place and in an easy-to-read format.
Our households have a bigger part of play in the economy than ever before
Home economics is more than just housekeeping. It needs to reflect modern-day life.
In short, home ec can teach you how to be a modern savvy consumer. It helps you develop your budgeting skills and to spend your money wisely. But best of all, it can help you to assess information to make informed decisions about almost anything you do from running your shop to buying a coffee.
It does this by helping you to think economically.
Be a savvy consumer. Use everyday economics in your home.
Knowledge is power as they say.
The more knowledge you have about the way the world works, the better choices you can make.
The great thing is most people have good intentions. But, without an understanding of how the world works, these intentions may never be realised. (Remember the mortgage example?)
Economics affects each of us every day. It applies to everything in life. It’s more than sewing, cooking, making and mending. It’s a way of thinking to make your good intentions your reality.
Give yourself the power of reason. Be a home economist.
What are your thoughts about everyday economics in your home? Do you think it’s still relevant? Let me know below.