Overview of the &Quot;Home Economics Research: Why Give a Damn?&Quot; Workshop

E. Thomas Garman, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
[ to cite ]:
E. Thomas Garman (1979) ,"Overview of the &Quot;Home Economics Research: Why Give a Damn?&Quot; Workshop", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 27-30.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 27-30


E. Thomas Garman, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


This workshop featured five prominent speakers from the field of home economics:

* E. Thomas Garman, Professor, Department of Management, Housing, and Family Development, V.P.I.

* E. Scott Maynes, Chairman, Department of Consumer Economics, Cornell University

* Earl W. Morris, Professor, Department of Family Environment, Iowa State University

* Patricia Sailor, Director, School of Home Economics, Louisiana State University

* Lucille Wakefield, Head, Department of Food and Nutrition, Florida State University.

The purpose of the workshop is spelled out in some detail in the opening remarks of Professor Garman. Following these are summary reports on some of the prospectives raised at the workshop. Citations of papers, relevant journals, and personal sources are included to assist interested members of ACR in pursuing specific topics.



by E. Thomas Garman

Home economists everywhere are most pleased to have the opportunity today for us to speak to members of the Association for Consumer Research regarding the importance and utilization of research conducted by home economists. The provocative title ending with "why give a damn?" seems appropriate because all too often our individual tendencies to specialize result in "tunnel vision" when examining the professional literature.

A few brief comments are in order before our panel members make individual presentations regarding research in home economics of value to you. More than 75 years ago home economics as a field of study was defined as "in its most comprehensive sense, it is the study of the laws, conditions, principles, and ideals which are concerned on the one hand with man's immediate physical environment and on the other hand with his nature as a social being, and is the study of especially the relations between those two factors." In essence, what research home economists have been primarily concerned with through the years, and more particularly in the last decade, are those research efforts in areas which hold the greatest promise for improving the quality of living for families.

Home economists are concerned with family welfare and home economics researchers have drawn upon their own particular competencies as well as those of many people in allied fields. Our efforts are frequently directed at facets of larger research problems requiring a multi-disciplinary approach. The research that home economists have conducted that you are likely most familiar with, and this is a generalization, is that related to consumer economics, consumption economics, and consumer behavior. We are glad you are reading and critically analyzing research being conducted by home economists in these specialized areas of our broad discipline. However, we also give a good damn about affording you the opportunity to study our research in the more traditional areas of food, nutrition, and clothing as well since many things are and should be of vital interest to you.

Through a variety of sources of funds, both government and private, home economists are involved in research related to household management, housing, clothing and textiles, equipment, food, nutrition, agricultural economics, chemistry, economic and sociological analysis of rural as well as non-rural living, analyses of public policy alternatives, consumer choice and decision making, and research related to self-concept and social acceptance.

We are beyond looking only at the household in many research efforts and in fact examine many situations in institutional settings. In short, we are doing a lot of interesting and valuable work regarding the well being of families in the United States as well as abroad. The challenging task of our panelists today is to identify several pieces of research conducted by home economists that might be of considerable interest to you even though you may not have examined that work heretofore. We want to convince you of this point: "Home economics research is good, and that's why we should give a damn;"



by Patricia J. Sailor

Discussions leading to a Home Economics Research Assessment Planning Projections document began early in 1976. A workshop was held in 1977 in Washington, D.C., to focus on specific problems rather than discussion and assessment on a broad basis. Participating in the workshop were University researchers, University Administrators, representatives from Government agencies including the Social Security Administration, the Department of Labor, the Executive Office of the President, the National Bureau of Standards, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of HEW, and interested consumers. This was a concerted effort by many diverse groups and interests to define problems and suggest areas and priorities for research. Following the HERAPP workshop, the high priority researchable problem areas from each of the research areas were randomized and sent to all workshop participants, most Home Economics Administrators, and to a sample of 4,000 persons selected randomly from American Home Economics Association membership. Recipients were requested to list the ten most important researchable problems using the following criteria: 1) How crucial is the need for a solution to the problem? 2) Do home economists have the expertise to contribute to the solution? 3) Will the solution produce important and widespread benefits? Five major work areas were determined: Human Development, Food and Human Nutrition, Individual and Family Environments, Consumer Economics and Family Resources, and Community Services.

Many projects are currently underway that fall into areas defined as high priority by the study. One area of major concern in Textiles and Clothing was to determine aspects of textiles which affect consumer safety.

As part of a larger study, consumer attitudes toward care labeling and flammability standards were tallied. Results revealed that homemakers want and use care information with 9.5% supporting such labeling. Although 3/4 of the respondents felt flammability standards were needed for carpets, mattresses, and children's sleepwear, most were not aware of current standards and did not feel a responsibility to take special care to maintain Fire Resistant properties.

Another study concerned itself with the effect of mold on the flame resistance of flame retardant cotton fabrics. The researchers also studied whether modl stains could be removed by conventional methods and what the effects would be on the fabrics. They found that restoration of fabric appearance was not only difficult but may ruin the effectiveness of the flame retardant finish.

Other research with high priority has been for the handicapped. A nursing home served as the locale for research on the clothing needs of elderly handicapped women. It pointed up specific design features that are helpful to such women.

The effectiveness of the 1972 FTC trade regulation concerning "care labeling of textile wearing apparel" continues to be the object of research. One recent study investigated consumer interpretation of care instructions. For the project the definitions of the American Society for Testing Materials were used as a standard to measure the consumer's interpretations of labeling terms. Two of the terms, "wash separately" and "hand wash" were taken more literally by consumers than the ASTM interpretation.

A Home Economics Professor, and Home Economics instructor, a State Cooperative Extension Service Home Economist, and a department store buyer collaborated on a project to determine what sort of dress and appearance creates a favorable impression on potential employers. They found that all the executive secretaries and most of the hiring agents interviewed said that appearance was used as an indicator of the applicant's general ability to meet job requirements. From the comments of these people the researchers were able to isolate some general standards of dress considered appropriate for office wear.

A recent article in the Journal of Home Economics does a good job of describing the type of forward looking approach future Home Economics research will take relating to energy.

Energy-related decisions are present in just about everything we do. In housing, we make decisions on type, size, location, and insulation. We decide where to travel, in what kinds of vehicles, and whether to use public transportation. We make decisions about cleanliness - how long to wear clothes, when to throw the towels in the laundry, and how much hot water to use.

Home economists have a golden opportunity to play a critical role in helping families to make decisions -to look at options and assess both long- and short-run costs of adopting energy-saving habits.

There are no simple answers to the energy problem as one crucial research area, but we can't let that deter us from looking for solutions.

Some useful references for the areas noted here are:

Hogan, M. Janice, "Changing Our Energy Behavior"; Journal of Home Economics, May 1978.

Kelley, Eleanor; Jones, Susan; Nelson, Rogene, "How to Help Your Students Be Successful at Job Hunting"; Journal of Home Economics, November 1976.

Finley, Etta Lucille; et al; "Some Facts About Methyl Parathion Contamination"; Agricultural Experiment Station, Circular #104.

Badenhap, Suzanne B., and Purchase, Mary E., "Laundering Practices and Results of Homemakers Using Coin Operated Laundries"; Home Economics Research Journal, December 1976.

Ahrens, V. D., "Flammability of Children's Sleepwear: Evaluation of Selected Construction Features"; Home Economics Research Journal, June 1977.

Manikowske, Linda and Janecek, Coila, "Low Temperature Home Laundry, Effectiveness and Energy Consumption"; Proceedings of the National Meeting of the Association of College Professors of Textiles and Clothing; October 1977.

Reeves, Wilson A. and Marquette, Yvonne, "Use of Fyro176 and Nitrogenous Resins for the Production of Ignition Resistant and Durable Press Fabrics"; Journal of Fire Retardant Chemistry, May 1978

Treece, Anna Jean, and Bore, Joan, "The Effect of Stain Removal Treatments on F. R. Cotton Fabrics Exposed to Cheatomium Globasum, a Standard Mold"; Proceedings of the Association of College Professors of Textiles and Clothing, Regional Meetings, 1976.

Phipps, Cynthia Allen, "Clothing Design for Handicapped Elderly Women"; Journal of Home Economics, September 1977.



by E. Scott Maynes

This paper has two objectives: (1) to explain the viewpoint of consumer economics, and (2) to introduce its research domains and questions. It is of necessity brief; those wishing the detailed notes and references should write to the author at the College of Human Ecology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853.

Though our college has changed its name from Home Economics to "Human Ecoloby," reorganized its departments, and altered its mix of faculty recruitments, it remains faithful to the Home Economics tradition. This in turn implies a twofold mission:

1. At the micro level: the development, refinement, and transmission of a body of knowledge that enables households/families/consumers to function more effectively;

2. At the macro level: the development and assessment of policies that affect households.

The execution of this mission in the economic domain is the objective of "consumer economics."

The needs of the ultimate client shape any discipline. Let us see how the needs of our ultimate clients--the seller and the consumer--respectively shape marketing and consumer economics.

Both disciplines are applied. For both, theory is an instrument that is justified only by its ultimate usefulness to the client.

Both are multi-disciplinary and eclectic. Because consumer behavior and consumer problems transcend disciplinary boundaries, so too does the composition of faculty and the character of research in both fields. Not to be eclectic might be to court error and result in disservice rather than service to the ultimate client.

Both marketing consumer behaviorists and consumer economists have a common interest in understanding and predicting consumer behavior. But our different clients lead us to different problems or to different views of the same problems. Two examples make the point.

In measuring quality (utility), your concern in conjoint analysis is to ascertain preferences, ex ante and perhaps roughly, with an eye to product planning and selling. We seek to measure quality, ex post with precision, so that we can assess the functioning of markets.

For you the psychology of advertising is a primary tool to be utilized for more effective selling. For consumer economists it is a topic of secondary interest. If pursued, it would represent an exercise in "inoculation": teach consumers the psychology of advertising so that they are less likely to be taken in.

The difference in ultimate client also determines the dominant disciplinary background of our fields. Your primary mission as marketers is to ascertain and influence preferences--a psychological problem. So it is hardly surprising that most marketing consumer behaviorists received their primary training in social psychology.

In consumer economics our primary concern is to find how well consumers are using their resources and how well market and non-market mechanisms are serving them--an economic problem. Hence, training in economics is dominant in our department and, in my judgment, should be dominant among all home economists dealing with consumer problems.

Consumer economics is a developing discipline, just now mixing in many areas from description to analysis and characterized by the juxtaposition of primitive and sophisticated research. Its main publication outlets are the Journals of Consumer Research (a small share), Consumer Affairs, Consumer Policy (Europe), Consumer Studies and Home Economics (United Kingdom), Home Economics Research. We deal now with each of four research domains, citing representative topics and authors; not all authors are consumer economists, though this sector of their work is viewed by consumer economics as part of its literature.

Representative topics include values (Carol Meeks and Ruth Deacon), both the theory (Gary Becker) and measurement of household time use (M. Rowe--1917, Jean Warren, Kathryn Walker), financial resource management (credit--Joan Taber and Jean Bowers), other assets (Lawrence Shepard), decision-making within the household (Elizabeth Wolgast, Key Edwards), the long-run saving decision (Franco Modigliani and Richard Brumberg, Martin Feldstein), and use of tangible capital (Keith Bryant).

The "New Home Economics"

This phrase, introduced by Marc Nerlove in 1974, refers to the unifying concept of human capital -- its development, use and deterioration. Specific topics include the concept of human capital (Theodore Schultz, Gary Becker), the economics of labor force participation (a topic shared with Labor Economics), of recreation, of discrimination (Barbara Zoloth), of marriage, family formation, and family size.

The "New Industrial Organization"

Traditionally "industrial organization" has denoted the efficiency with which industries and markets are organized for purposes of production and distribution, especially the "monopoly problem." New developments extend these concerns to how informationally perfect markets are. Specific topics: the price-quality relationship (Ruby Morris and George Sproles), the measurement of product quality (E. Scott Maynes), the assessment of informationally imperfect markets (Maynes), studies of actual and optimal search/bargaining (Sproles and Loren Geistfeld and Suzanne Badenhop), the theory of informationally imperfect markets (Peter Diamond, Michael Rothschild, Steven Salop).

Consumer Policy

Policies that affect the ultimate client are ever a concern to professionals in any field. So, too, with consumer economics. Worth citing here are attempts to "organize'' the field or its questions (Shepard, Maynes, S. J. Ritchie) and examples of research dealing with specific policies, e.g., warranties (Bryand and Jennifer Gerner), consumer representation (Eric Midwinter), a proposal for a local consumer information system (Maynes, James Morgan, Weston Vivian, and Greg Duncan).


Even if this menu of research and research topics does not command your interest, the fact that the consumer interest is almost universal makes it imperative that you pay attention to what consumer economists teach and what they research. Potentially at least, consumer economists command the largest audience of all!



by Suzanne Lindamood and Sherman Hanna, Kansas State University

[The authors are members of the Department of Family Economics, Kansas State University.]

There is no separate discipline of housing research in home economics. As with many other applied fields, there are housing researchers who teach in schools of home economics, and there are housing researchers who teach in other areas. These researchers use various root disciplines to investigate a wide variety of housing problems ranging from efficient kitchen planning to equitable federal housing policy. The only common thread in all of the housing research in home economics is the paramount concern about families and consumers, as opposed to research conducted from the point of view of planning agencies or businesses.

There are a number of journals which publish housing research articles. Some researchers working out of home economics have published in sociology journals. The primary outlets for home economics housing research are the Home Economics Research Journal and Housing and Society: The Journal of the American Association of Housing Educators. Housing and Society also publishes work by architects, sociologists, economists, and others interested in housing.

Below is a selected list of housing research and publications by home economists. The titles should give some idea of the range of topics covered by housing researchers in home economics.

I. Southern Regional Research Project (S95) Survey of about 4,000 households in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Research areas include development of housing quality indexes, environmental factors influencing housing, energy, community and neighborhood characteristics and preferences, subjective and objective measures of quality and satisfaction, housing needs of the aged, housing goals and aspirations, subcultural differences, constraints to obtaining adequate housing, single person households, and desire for help with housing problems.

II.North Central Regional Research Project (NC128) Quality of Life as Influenced by Area of Residence (metro, metro fringe, non-metro). Research areas include how people manage their housing problems, norms and deficits, and assessment of conditions and needs.

III. Representative articles in Housing and Society (formerly Housing Educators Journal).

Energy Policies Directed at the Home: Which Ones Will People Accept?

Space Norms and Housing of Low Income Families

Housing and Occupational Subcultures

Social Factors Related to Housing Selection

Attitudes of Blacks and Whites in Public Housing

The Measurement of Quality in Housing and Its Relation to Housing Satisfaction

Housing Choice and Distance Moved: An Ecological Model

Simulations of Variable Rate Mortgages

The Effects of Housing Allowances

The Social Psychology of Space: Measuring Territorial Behavior of Elderly People in Public Housing

Residential Homogeneity and Neighborhood Satisfaction

Residential Satisfaction of Recent Movers into Government Assisted

Housing Projects: The Impact of the First Nine Months


Morris, Earl W. and Winter, Mary. Housing Family and Society, Wiley, 1978.

Lindamood, Suzanne, and Hanna, Sherman. Housing, Society, and Consumers: An Introduction, West, 1979.

V. Selected Articles in Home Economics Research Journal

Consumer Preferences and Selected Socioeconomic Variables Related to Physical Adequacy of Housing

Housing Values, Aspirations, and Satisfactions as Indicators of Housing Need

Service Life of Appliances: Variations by Selected Characteristics of Owner Households

Home Maintenance and Improvement Behavior of Owners

Housing Decisions in Selecting a Residence in a Planned Townhouse Development

Housing Aspirations of Southern Appalachian Families

VI. Selected Articles in The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Evaluation of Energy Saving Investments

Economics of the Low-Income Mortgagor Counseling Program

VII. Selected Dissertations

Socio-Physical Factors Affecting Energy Consumption in Single Family Dwellings: An Empirical Test of a Human Ecosystems Model