Family and Consumer Sciences

Family and consumer sciences is a field of study that focuses on improving the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. The field is still mostly known internationally as home economics. But since the 1960’s, a variety of names, including human ecology, human sciences, and human environmental science have come into use in the United States. These changes in names reflected changes in society, universities, and the profession.


View this Picture


Family and consumer sciences class
Family and consumer science professionals follow an approach that emphasizes the interconnections and interactions among different systems. For example, these systems could include the family system and the community system or consumers and the economic system. Professionals trained in the field may work as researchers, scientists, designers, teachers, human service professionals, writers, consultants, administrators, or entrepreneurs.

Areas of study

Because the lives of individuals and families are interconnected, the specializations within family and consumer sciences are also connected. They include (1) human development and family studies; (2) design, production of consumer goods and services, and retailing; (3) hospitality management; (4) nutrition, dietetics, and food science; (5) family and consumer sciences education and communications; and (6) consumer economics and family resource management. Programs in these areas connect and join courses from other specialized areas and use knowledge of these relationships to address many concerns of everyday life.

Human development and family studies focuses on the physical, emotional, psychological, and social development of individuals of all ages. It also covers interactions between family members. Students in these studies learn to teach such topics as cooperation, parenting, family relationships, development throughout the life cycle, group decision making and problem solving, and conflict and crisis prevention and management. Students may become day-care managers for children or vulnerable adults, teachers of young children and youth, marriage and family counselors, or community service professionals.

Design, production of consumer goods and services, and retailing aims to increase human well-being by providing resources for daily living. Programs in this area focus on the design of apparel and home furnishings. Programs also focus on the development and sale of consumer goods (items produced for use by individuals and families) and services (activities performed that have value, such as legal advice). Some programs focus on the interior design of homes, offices, stores, hotels, and other buildings. Graduates may have careers as interior or apparel designers, fiber artists, sales or advertising specialists, or managers and buyers for retail companies.

Hospitality management focuses on providing for people’s needs away from home. Courses include hotel and motel management; restaurant, beverage, and food service management; food preparation; nutrition; human relations; marketing; and finance. Graduates can manage hotels, restaurants, and rental housing; or plan conventions and recreational activities.

Nutrition, dietetics, and food science focuses on the knowledge and skills needed to ensure that individuals get adequate nutrition and enjoy food. Students in this area study the body’s nutritional requirements, the nutritional value of various foods, food safety, the relationship of diet to disease and its prevention, the development of food products, and food service management. Study in this area can lead to a career as a dietitian, public health nutritionist, fitness consultant, or food or nutrition scientist.

Family and consumer sciences education and communications prepares teachers and other communicators for work in schools, businesses, government agencies, or television and other media. Some graduates work as teachers in schools, universities, or community-based programs. Others find careers in advertising, journalism, and broadcasting.

Consumer economics and family resource management examines how individuals and families manage money, time, energy, talent, and other resources. Students in this area focus on family financial planning, family and consumer economics, and protecting the interests of consumers.


The field of family and consumer sciences—originally called home economics—developed largely in response to the Industrial Revolution, a period of rapid industrialization that began in the 1700’s. The Industrial Revolution had a large impact on individual and family life by the 1800’s.

In the 1800’s, educated women were not allowed to enter many male-dominated careers, so they created their own profession of home economics. They used this profession to address such social problems as unsanitary, overcrowded housing with inadequate plumbing and ventilation; inadequate city sanitary services and water systems; infectious diseases (the main cause of death); unhealthy diets; the drudgery of housework; and deteriorating home life. Professional home economists applied science to improving the safety and wholesomeness of food and water and taught sanitary practices.

In the mid-1800’s, Catharine E. Beecher established schools for young women that taught cooking, child care, home management, and other skills under the name domestic economy. Her efforts led to the founding of a home economics movement. In the late 1800’s, Ellen Richards, a chemist and the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, promoted science applied to the practical problems of the home. She led the transition of the movement into a profession during 10 annual conferences in Lake Placid, New York, that were held from 1899 to 1909. Richards and others founded the American Home Economics Association (now the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences) and the Journal of Home Economics in 1909.

Over the years, new specializations emerged, and universities and other institutions adopted a variety of names for their home economics programs, creating confusion. In 1993, in Scottsdale, Arizona, representatives of five home economics-related organizations recommended the profession’s name change to family and consumer sciences.

The field of family and consumer sciences has changed greatly in response to U.S. and global developments. These developments included new knowledge, changes in the roles of men and women, fewer families with full-time homemakers, diminishing natural resources, more pollution and waste problems, and technological advances.

Career requirements

Professionals in family and consumer sciences have at least a bachelor’s degree. Many positions require advanced degrees. Students may be required to take courses in the biological, physical, and social sciences. Other studies include courses that teach students to work across specializations as a way to solve real problems of daily life. Some specializations require courses in the arts and humanities. The American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences accredits U.S. college and university programs and certifies professionals in family and consumer sciences and various specializations. Other professional associations certify other specialized programs and professionals within the profession.