The Economics of Household Consumption

By Frances M. Magrabi; Young Sook Chung et al. | Go to book overview

Part I
Concepts, Theories, and Empirical Measurement

WHAT IS CONSUMPTION ECONOMICS?

What is consumption economics? And how does it differ from production economics or from economics in general?

Samuelson describes economics as "the study of how men and society choose, with or without the use of money, to employ scarce productive resources to produce various commodities over time and to distribute them for consumption, now and in the future, among various people and groups" ( 1961, p. 6). It is, then, a study of choice. Who chooses? Some choices are made by individuals, some by business firms or households or by larger social groups, some by the nation as a whole. Why do they choose? Because resources are scarce and because they seek something economists call "utility," which can be obtained only through use of resources. How they choose is the subject of economics.

Choices have to be made (by people and societies) regarding what shall be produced and how resources will be used in that production. Choices also have to be made about how the goods and services that are produced shall be allocated among the ultimate consumers--households and individuals. Consumption economics is concerned with the latter set of choices and with the factors that influence those choices.

Although consumption was recognized as a legitimate area for study at least as early as the period of Adam Smith, the first major effort to establish a formal theory of household consumption was Kyrk 1923 book, The Theory of Consumption. Kyrk claimed for this new area of study a broad, interdisciplinary scope, pointing out that "consumption habits vary with time and place . . . [and cover] numerous modes of human activity . . . , [and that the] motives, interests, and impulses behind it are of infinite variety, and are molded, shaped, and organized by the whole environment in which the individual is placed" (pp. 6-7).

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