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Household economics 101: human capital
Michael-Burkhard Piorkowsky | Tuesday, 7 June 2011

If other social institutions had to perform the tasks of the home, society would immediately collapse.

Many valuable goods are produced in the home, but because they do not involve payment they are largely invisible to what we normally think of as "the economy" and the work of producing them is not recognized as a profession. At a recent conference in London -- Sustainable Living: Professional Approaches to Housework -- Dr Michael-Burkhard Piorkowsky, Professor for Household and Consumption Economics at the University of Bonn, presented a paper on what household economics tells us about this profession. His paper, "The Competences of Housework", can be found at the website of the Home Renaissance Foundation, sponsor of the conference. Here, in an email interview, he answers some questions from MercatorNet.

MercatorNet: Some people might be surprised to learn that a university professor has anything to say about housework. From which academic perspective to you approach this subject?

Michael-Burkhard Piorkowsky: I am an economist and my arguments are grounded on a special branch of economic science called household economics. It has a tradition in early home economics and in advanced modern micro economics. Gary Stanley Becker has elaborated the Human Capital Theory and the New Home Economics, stressing the economic dimension of "productive consumption". He was honored with the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1992. Some new influences in this field came from the New Institutional Economics, insisting that institutions matter, because the "consumer" is embedded in the household and family context.

You have described running a household as "a genuine management task". What sorts of things do you include in this task?

Household management includes all tasks directed to the development of the household, i.e. the household group and assets. It starts with the initial formation of one's own household and the dynamic, ongoing creation of a lifestyle pattern, setting goals and allocating resources to these goals.

Deciding to leave the parents' home, living alone or in partnership, renting or buying a flat or a house, organizing the interior, deciding to have or not to have children, feeding them and bringing them up, looking for healthy food, caring for the elderly, being informed about private pension plans, taking care of the environment -- these are all examples of managerial tasks that contribute to sustainable living in the home.


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