What Are Family Economics?

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  • Written By: Jennifer O.
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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As an academic discipline, family economics looks at behaviors and structures within families from an economic perspective. Family economics also refers to the more practical matters of everyday family finance, such as spending, earning, investing, saving and housing. People involved in the field of family economics include social workers, university extension agents and financial coaches. Others who work on the theoretical aspects include economists, consultants, university professors and other researchers.

Economists began to analyze families as economic units beginning in the 1950s. Families began to be studied as economic units within the larger fabric of economic activity. It was an extension of microeconomic theory, and people who specialize in this analysis are called family economists. The main goal of family economics as a field of study is to create theories and public policies that improve the well-being of families.

The study of family economics is not simply a matter of monetary income and outflow. It also includes factors such as fertility, division of labor, intra-household bargaining, human capital, divorce and intergenerational mobility. There is a concern with how family structures are created or maintained explicitly for economic reasons. This includes practices such as increasing the number of children in order to increase household income and hypergamy, which refers to seeking marriage partners of higher economic status. Family economics also includes the study of how families affect and are affected by market forces.


Social factors are also relevant, and there are several disciplines to which family economics is related. Sociological study of families often focuses on economic issues, especially within a particular social context or phenomenon. Demography, particularly demographic economics, examines different groups within families as economic actors. For instance, teens, women or the elderly might be studied for their economic roles within families. Nutrition, anthropology, psychology, public health and education are other fields that overlap with family economics.

The second aspect of family economics is more related to personal finance and financial literacy. It tends to involve education and planning, which can include helping people calculate the financial risks and benefits of home ownership or the cost of raising a child. Education and skills-building that help individual families gain or maintain financial stability is common. Curricula and counseling exist to help families with issues such as managing bills, buying insurance, using credit and saving for education or retirement. Wealth generation and maintenance are also a concern of family economics, and investing is usually an important focus.


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Post 3

Are there any schools that are known for having really good family economics programs? Or are there any economists who are know for their research in this area? I am looking for a good introduction to the field.

Post 2

@gravois - I think you make some good points. I have done some research into family economics on my own, but it rarely gets mentioned in the undergrad economics curriculum I am currently working my way thorough.

But you are right. The family is the most fundamental human grouping on the planet. All economic decisions will either come from or go through a family structure. There is endless areas for study and hopefully some time in the future family economics will get the academic attention it deserves.

Post 1

I think that family economics is an important and often overlooked area of economics. Like many issues within the domestic sphere, the economics of families gets marginalized as being irrelevant or too subjective to be studied.

In reality, family economics are the most widespread and fundamental economic actors in the world. If you don't understand how economics works within a family and how that affects broader society you can't understand anything.

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