THE household has lost its social value as the productive unit; it remains, however, the centre of consumption. That the father should earn and the mother spend the family income is the allotment of function generally agreed upon. There are, of course, variations of this program. There are well-to-do households in which the father not only earns the support but pays the large items in the expense account, such as rent and other amounts which are periodically due. There are other households in which the wife is physically disabled or indifferent, and the father makes the daily purchases. In other families, too, in which the mother is interested in a professional pursuit, scholarship, the law, journalism, or teaching - conspicuous examples could be cited of each - the direction of the household may be jointly assumed as suits the professional convenience of either or both. There are communities of considerable extent - the great textile centres, mill towns in England and Scotland, and certain factory towns in New England - where the mother regularly contributes by her labor to the family income. The sum of these exceptional family groups is absolutely large; relatively, however, it is small enough to justify characterizing them as "exceptional." However many may be the cases of the women who earn or however questionable the desirability of their becoming wage-paid workers, it is universally accepted as suitable that the women of the household should spend. Among large numbers of the community it is, in fact, the practice for husband and wage-earning children to turn in to the wife and mother their entire pay, to receive back for personal and separate use the amount her judgment allows, on the basis of knowing and planning for the needs of the entire group.
It has been pointed out that in the past slight attention has been paid to this function of the housewife, because in the past, when the home was the centre of production, the interest was focused upon the technical processes involved rather than upon the wise allotment of various goods to various wants. Moreover, where the great volume of wants are satisfied by making goods rather than by purchasing them, the latter seems relatively less important. In this country, too, nature has been so bountiful and the access to the means of production on the whole so free that penalties for unwise use of resources have been lacking, and there has therefore been relatively slight inducement to improve the technique of consumption.
The same wasteful methods have prevailed in production for the market, Only as the struggle for life grows keener and access to the means of production more difficult, as land is appropriated and capital is organized, as the growth of cities and improved means of communication reveal to all members of the community the struggle necessary for many, has the producer for the market on the one hand and the housewife directing the consumption of her family on the other begun to take notice of the deplorable waste which has characterized the activities of both. On this account much is said and written as to the desirability of cost-accounting in the factory and office. In the same way the need is voiced for the housewife to learn to plan more carefully and to enter upon each year's activities prepared to benefit from the experience, failures, mistakes, victories, and successes of previous years.
This means a system of cost-accounting carefully worked out so as to reduce the labor of keeping it to the lowest point consistent with its intelligent use in comparing the results of methods used and of experiments tried. It also means careful and deliberate planning, the preparation of a budget in which the wants of the group are recognized and allowance is made for the fullest satisfaction of each want consistent with the adequate recognition of the others. It means, of course, a standard of living adopted on the basis of careful thought as to the pecuniary resources available for the group, the probable changes in the earning capacity of the man, the social claims upon the group, and the domestic and social capacities of the woman.
The first consideration in determining the amount to be spent, after taking account of the maximum fixed by the total income from all sources - the earnings of the husband, income from invested securities owned by both husband and wife, earnings of the children, etc. - and the minimum set by the actual cost of the shelter, food, and clothing consistent with health and decency, would be the allotment of resources as between present and future wants. When there are children, the cost of education must be anticipated as relatively greater when they reach the adolescent period. The claims of the man's business may require sudden change in domicile or make a more costly method of living seem advantageous. Inherited tendencies of a physical kind may make it seem wise to lay aside a considerable proportion of the current income against the time of illness and incapacity. On the other hand, generous nourishment for man and child alike, or apparently extravagant expenditures in education or recreation, may ward off the dreaded invalidism or bring in relatively larger returns in increased earning capacity in later years.
These considerations and others like them should weigh with the young housewife to whom the husband intrusts the responsibility of planning their joint domestic undertaking. Not only should she consider seriously the claims of the present and of the future; she should have a pretty clear idea of the wants other than physical which will demand satisfaction and avenge themselves if ignored. She will, of course, recognize the fact that food adequate in amount and well selected, shelter wholesome, decent, and if possible beautiful, and clothing of the kind to meet the needs of warmth, freedom of motion, tastefulness, and rational conformity to prevailing styles must be supplied. She will, in addition, allow for the schooling of the children and provide the opportunity for the entire group, by means of daily newspapers, the weekly and monthly magazines, and the purchase of books, to indulge to a reasonable extent the desire to know what is going on in the world about and what the past has meant. If she is wise, she will allow for such social intercourse as will give her group a sense of close relationship with other groups; for recreation which brings relaxation and gives free play to individual and original powers; for such service of the poor and needy as cultivates the spirit of service and gives a sense of unity with the whole wide world; and for such enjoyment and appreciation of beauty as unites the individual harmoniously with the universe.