In the 1950s, with the United States still recovering from the effects of World War II, American girls were routinely instructed in the value of women working at home and nurturing a family. Twenty years later, home economics programs began to branch out into more specialized topics, such as marriage counseling, child development, and nutritional sciences. Many such niche topics became separate programs at many schools, and led to various college degrees that were derivative of those basic issues. During the 10 to 15 years or so, that trend has increased, and some schools are now offering specialized degrees in specific 'home ec' related topics, such as nutrition and fitness, property management, and family dynamics. These specialized programs have helped to attract a more even mix of both women and men.
Five years ago, only about 10% of the students in the University of Georgia's College of Family and Consumer Sciences were men. Last year, however, nearly ⅓ of the college's 1,700 students were men. Changes such as these are occurring all across the country, as the stereotypes traditionally acquainted with home economics programs are beginning to crumble.
Educators and school administrators say that even the term 'home economics' is becoming outdated. Many schools have changed home economics program titles to terms such as 'human sciences' or 'consumer sciences', to reflect the broader acceptance and appeal to students regardless of their gender. "Our students graduate to become lawyers, loan counselors, directors of day care, or dietitians," said Sharon Nickols, Dean of UGA's College of Family and Consumer Sciences. "We just don't know their major because they don't say, 'I'm a family and consumer scientist."'
Instead of learning about laundry essentials, students are taught tips for budgeting, and basic information about the laws of supply and demand. Instead of the classes in dressmaking and cookie-baking that were the staple of high school home economics classes in junior high decades ago, courses are now geared toward what educators term 'life skills'. Changes to home economics programs to make their approach a broader one have begun to draw in more male students, says Dan Bower. Bower is President of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, a group that was once called the American Home Economics Association.
Dennis Savaiana, the Dean of Purdue University's College of Consumer and Family Sciences, explains that today is 'the golden age of home ec'. According to Savaianao, "We're directing all the same issues-family, food and finance-in a much broader, societal way. These are issues that transcend the home and reflect society in every way." But although home ec programs are beginning to include more non-gender-related topics, such as athletic training programs, schools are still working to open up the appeal of traditionally female-friendly programs to males.
Schools are welcoming and embracing the opportunity to broaden the concept of home economics. One way of making these programs appeal to male students is to focus on nutrition, and how it affects the entire body in a holistic way. Taking a nutritional approach to food education rather than a recipe approach shifts the focus to health rather than palatability and efficiency, making the subject matter appeal to a wider audience of both males and females.