What is Family Resource Management and why is it important to today’s American family?”

Goldsmith, E. B., & GOLDSMITH, E. B. (2003). Resource Management. In J. J. Ponzetti Jr. (Ed.), International encyclopedia of marriage and family (2nd ed.). Farmington, MI: Gale. Retrieved from


from International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family

Resource management is the process in which individuals and families use what they have to get what they want. It begins with thinking and planning and ends with the evaluation of actions taken. Three fundamental concepts in resource management are values, goals, and decision making. Values such as honesty and trust are principles that guide behavior. They are desirable or important and serve as underlying motivators. Values determine goals, which are sought-after end results. Goals can be implicit or explicit. They can be short-term, intermediate-, or long-term. Decisions are conclusions or judgments about some issue or matter. Decision making involves choosing between two or more alternatives and follows a series of steps from inception to evaluation.

Through choices, individuals and families define their lives and influence the lives of others. The study of resource management focuses on order, choices, and control, and how people use time, energy, money, physical space, and information. As an applied social science, it is an academic field that is fundamental to our understanding of human behavior. “The knowledge obtained through the study of management is evaluated in light of its ability to make an individual’s or family’s management practice more effective” (Goldsmith 2000, p. 5).

Individuals and families have characteristic ways of making decisions and acting called their management style. Although similar styles are exhibited within families (such as a tendency to be on time or to finish tasks to completion), there are also wide ranges of styles within families making the study of management intrinsically interesting, especially from a socialization point of view. Why do such differences exist and how does the individual’s style mesh with that of the other members’ styles in the family?

Measuring devices, techniques, or instruments that are used to make decisions and plan courses of action are called management tools. For example, time is a resource and a clock or stopwatch is a management tool.

Resources can be divided up into human and material resources, assets that people have at their disposal. Material resources (e.g., bridges, roads, houses) decline through use whereas human resources (e.g., the ability to read, ride a bicycle) improve or increase through use. Human capital describes the sum total of a person’s abilities, knowledge, and skills. Education is one way to develop human capital. Related to this is the concept of social capital. The term social capital is gaining in importance in the family-relations field and management is considered part of a person’s or family’s social capital. As a dynamic concept social capital can be considered a resource imbedded in the relationships among people that individuals, groups, and communities create, in which they invest, and which can be used to provide or develop resources or facilitate social and personal well being (Bubolz 2002).

Conceptual Framework and History

Resource management has a long history and an interdisciplinary base borrowing from and contributing to such fields as economics, organizational behavior, anthropology, psychology, and sociology. The discipline was originally called home management—with an emphasis on work simplification and household efficiency—but since the postmodern period (beginning in the 1960s) the emphasis has been on viewing the family as a social system and resource management as one of the many functions of that system (Knoll 1963; Maloch and Deacon 1966; McGregor 2001). In recent years the most widely used term to describe the field is family resource management or more simply management, which will be a term used in the remainder of the entry. Although the family is recognized as the fundamental societal unit, it is recognized that management principles and techniques apply to singles as well as to families. Attention is also paid to the management styles and situations of different types of families besides the traditional two-parents-and-children configuration.

Management research studies are conducted worldwide and results are reported in journals and at conferences. Family functioning, time, and stress are common themes. For example, data-based studies have found that family resources play a critical role in the healthy family functioning of Korean immigrant families in the United States (Lee 2000). Multinational papers presented at the 1998 International Household and Family Research Conference held in Helsinki, Finland reinforced the importance of family resource management to the well-being of families including the pursuit of the ideal life (Turkki 1999; Fujimoto and Aoki 1999).

Several theories, most importantly systems and economic theories, influence the way management is taught, practiced, and studied. According to Deacon and Firebaugh (1988), the family’s values, demands and resources are defined as inputs to the system. A leading management theorist in the twentieth century, Beatrice Paolucci, was especially interested in how family systems interact with their various near and far environments, which is termed the human ecological approach. Paolucci along with her coauthors Nancy Axinn and Olive Hall wrote:

Things need not just happen in a family; they can be decided. The responsibility and the burden of choice are a particular attribute of humanness. The quality of human life and the prospect of the family’s continued survival within limited environmental settings depends, in large measure, on the decisions made in daily family living (1977, p. 1).

For a history of her life and contributions to family resource management see Beatrice Paolucci: Shaping Destiny through Everyday Life (Bubolz et al. 2002). Economic theory assumes that people seek to maximize their satisfaction through the decisions that they make. In economics, individuals are seen as rational and acquisitive. Management recognizes that although individuals want to increase satisfaction, they often behave in nonoptimizing, less than rational ways. Unexpected events or reactions to events may require adjustments to plans and actions.

Family resource management differs from the way management is taught in business schools. In colleges of business, the application is mostly to employer/employee relationships in nonprofit and for-profit organizations. The fields are alike in that both are concerned with productivity and decision making but in family resource management the examples are more likely to be of a personal, home-based, or family nature. However, it should be pointed out that there are several cross-over topics such as time management and balancing work and family life and cross-field collaborations are common.

Practical Applications and a Model of Managerial Action

Because management explores the workings of everyday life, it is both complex and practical. To show the interaction of various management components, a model of managerial action using the systems approach is given in Figure 1.

In the model, for example, demands and values lead to planning and the use of resources ending with met demands, achieved goals, and feedback. In Africa, where many regions suffer from drought and food shortages, individuals and families have to plan wisely and use resources well in order to incrase their chances of survival. In management, wants and needs are differentiated from goals. Wants are specific and temporary, such as craving a certain food. Needs range from basic physiological needs to self-actualization (Maslow 1954). Within a family there can be conflicting needs. People arrive at their needs through a complex subjective assessment based on their inherent motivations and their perceptions of the external world (Foxall, Goldsmith, and Brown 1998). In today’s fast-paced world, filled with competing demands, people do not have the time to carefully assess their needs or to plan effectively.

Situational factors, personality traits, and motivational forces affect plans. Individuals and families set standards within the context of existing demands and resource availability. Standards develop over time. People live in the present, but they are thinking about the future and developing plans based on their values and standards. “Planning is a thinking and information-gathering process involving a series of decisions. It is a process because formulating plans requires several steps, such as information gathering, sorting, and prioritizing; then, based on this information, the planner must decide which plan is most likely to succeed” (Goldsmith 2000, p. 125). Plans have purpose; they are taking the planner somewhere. To succeed, plans should be clear, flexible, appropriate, and goal-directed. People have primary plans and back-up plans. Implementing refers to putting plans into action. Evaluation is the end process of looking back, checking over, examining past decisions and actions and determining how they worked. Goal achievement should provide satisfaction.

Time, Work, Family, and Stress

Time use and the direction of human effort are integral to the study of management. Queen Elizabeth I said on her deathbed, “All my possessions for a moment of time.” Time is generally considered the ultimate resource because it is a resource all people, rich or poor, share. In the discipline in the past there was debate about whether time is a “true” resource (Winter 1995).

As the Queen Elizabeth I quote shows we all share time but it is finite. Therefore, a critical management question is how do we make the best use of the time that we do have. One answer is through conscious control. In management studies, a person is trained to ask when confronted with competing activities, “What is the best use of my time right now?” Another question to ask is “Is the activity I am about to undertake consistent with my goals?” These questions address both quantitative time (measured units of time such as minutes and hours) and qualitative time (feelings about how time is spent). Time perceptions vary widely by individual and by culture. For example, being on time in most North American cultures means five or ten minutes before the agreed upon time or being right on time. In other cultures, being an hour late may still be regarded as being on time. Discretionary time is free time one can use any way one wants. Nondiscretionary time is programmed by others or set by schedules and appointments. Everyday life is a combination of both. Stress is often caused by not having enough discretionary time. Over-programmed time is a problem for children as well as adults.

Few people are immune from the difficulties of trying to balance work and family life. Most controversy centers around managing hours and responsibilities, but it is also about one’s priorities. Which is more important: work or family? When someone is asked to work overtime, this question becomes apparent. In workaholism, work is the most pleasurable part of life and family or personal life takes a back seat. On the other hand, procrastination is the postponement of work usually in favor of more pleasurable parts of family or personal life.

With improvements in technology, there has been a blurring of work and family roles and often less lag time. Email, cellular telephones, automatic teller machines, and the Internet have accelerated everyday life and have made people, information, and services more accessible. Work and family lives are becoming increasingly blurred and even may share the same physical space as one considers the growth in the number of home-based businesses.

The twenty-first century will be characterized by more family transformation and stress (McCubbin et al. 1997). Because the purpose of management is not only to describe problems, but also to present solutions, distress and fatigue are subjects of discussion in terms of what can be done to lessen them. Regarding getting more sleep, James Maas (1998) suggests getting an adequate amount of sleep every night, establishing a regular sleep schedule, getting continuous sleep, and making up for lost sleep. Another solution is the reestablishment of routines such as regular mealtimes as a way to simplify life. The simplification process may involve other steps such as pulling back on spending and building up more savings to provide for more leisure time in the future (Goldsmith 2001).

Family resource specialists strive to reach a stage called managerial judgment, defined as the ability to accept and work with change for the betterment of self and humankind. The ultimate goal of the management expert is the creation of a better tomorrow.


More could be said about managing human effort, environmental resources, and financial resources. This entry briefly touches the surface of a more than century-old discipline that affects every aspect of daily life. What management does is provide a framework, a way of looking at things that can be applied to a variety of situations. It is about life not just happening but happening in an orderly way. Humans are constantly seeking answers, making plans, and pursuing goals that bring desired results. Management provides insight into how this occurs. It is both simple and complex. Each day presents new challenges, new questions about how life should be and can be. Individuals are continually confronted with decisions to be made given scarce resources. This entry has endeavored to show the basics of the discipline and its application to everyday life. The greatest future challenge for the field will be the continued integration of management with other theories to address socially relevant issues as life becomes more complex and diverse.



  • Bubolz, M. (2002). “Family and Social Capital.” Panel presentation at Fourth Beatrice Paolucci Seminar: Personal, Social, and Corporate Responsibility in a Common World. East Lansing, Michigan State University.
  • Bubolz, M.; Axinn, N.; Mitsifer, D.; Nelson, L.; Wenberg, B. (2002). Beatrice Paolucci: Shaping Destiny through Everyday Life.Michigan State University East Lansing.
  • Deacon, R.; Firebaugh, F. (1988). Family Resource Management, 2nd edition. Allyn and Bacon Boston.
  • Foxall, G.; Goldsmith, R.; Brown, S. (1998). Consumer Psychology for Marketing. Routledge London.
  • Fujimoto, T.; Aoki, K. (1999). “What to Recognize from Everyday Life in Interaction of Man, Matter, Life and Environments.” In New Approaches to the Study of Everyday Life: Proceedings of the International Household and Family Research Conference, May 31-June 3, 1998, Helsinki, Finland.
  • Goldsmith, E. (2000). Resource Management for Individuals and Families, 2nd edition. Wadsworth Belmont, CA.
  • Goldsmith, E. (2001). Personal Finance. Wadsworth Belmont, CA.
  • Knoll, M. (1963). “Toward a Conceptual Framework in Home Management.” Journal of Home Economics 55: 335-339.
  • Lee, H. (2000). “The Effects of Family Resources and Social Support on Family Functioning Style among Korean Immigrant Families in the U.S.” Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences. 92(3):66.
  • Maas, J. (1998). Power Sleep. Villard New York.
  • Maloch, F.; Deacon, R. (1966). “Proposed Framework for Home Management.” Journal of Home Economics 58:31-35.
  • Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and Personality. Harper and Row New York.
  • McCubbin, H.; McCubbin, M.; Thompson, A.; Hans, S.; Allen, C. (1997). “Families Under Stress: What Makes Them Resilient?”Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences 2-11.
  • McGregor, S. (2001). Modernism and Post-Modernism Compared. Working paper. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada: Mt. St. Vincent University.
  • Paolucci, B.; Hall, O.; Axinn, N. (1977). Family Decision Making: An Ecosystem Approach. Wiley New York.
  • Turkki, K., ed. (1999). In New Approaches to the Study of Everyday Life: Proceedings of the International Household and Family Research Conference, May 31-June 3, 1998, Helsinki, Finland.
  • Winter, M. (1995). “Resource Management.” In Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family Relationships, ed. D. Levinson. Macmillan New York.

ELIZABETH BEARD GOLDSMITH© 2003 by Macmillan Reference USA

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Goldsmith, E. B., & GOLDSMITH, E. B. (2003). Resource Management. In J. J. Ponzetti Jr. (Ed.), International encyclopedia of marriage and family (2nd ed.). Farmington, MI: Gale.

International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family

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The second edition of the International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family revises and expands Macmillan’s 1995 Encyclopedia of Marriage and the Family, adopting an international, cross-cultural approach to such diverse topics as adolescent parenthood, family planning, cohabitation, widowhood, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, codependency and commuter marriages. It includes articles specific to countries and to religious traditions, examining the history of family life within these cultures and discussing how families have been affected by political and social change.

Editor(s): James J. Ponzetti Jr.Edition: 2ndArticles: 420Images: 1People: 31

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Despite the challenges facing families across time, the family remains the world’s oldest form of relationship, a universal phenomenon (Sokalski, 1994). For centuries, families have been organized as a basic unit of society. This social unit has continued to be maintained over time, and, until recently, the family unit was generally considered to be a private institution. The contemporary family is now, more than ever before, a political entity. Family values are emerging in campaign slogans, drawing increased attention to the importance of family units within the social framework of communities, locally, nationally, and globally. This surge of interest in the family unit has resulted in increased research, expanding our knowledge base of family functions and evolution over time.

Although family life does give individuals a strong sense of continuity, Skolnick and Skolnick (2005) call attention to the fact that the family is in transition. Emerging communications and technology capabilities have accelerated this transition. Families of the future will not only need to be aware of changes that are taking place, but they will also need the skills to adapt resource management to fit new realities.

Paralleling the changing social, political, and economic climates surrounding families are changes in the structure of families. Coontz (2000) points out that favored traditional family structures carry privilege, whereas Doherty (1997) speculates that, as a result of environmental changes, our current society may be the first in history that cannot clearly define the family. These complexities necessitate the need for ongoing education and evaluation about the ways families function.

The key concepts of family resource management include an interdependency of individuals, a dynamic environment, and a conscious effort to meet basic needs for all individuals within the family unit. Managing family resources has always been a process, requiring individuals to recognize that effective decisions cannot be made quickly and that the evaluation of those decisions is essential for future decisions.

Families cannot effectively manage resources without an awareness of their opportunities as well as a consideration of their limitations. They need to be aware that living in the 21st century presents numerous challenges to the family. Families will continue to consume large amounts of resources, be engaged in the global economy, and provide safety and security for its members. Each of these functions requires management. Thus, the concept of family resource management is imbedded in those three individual words: familyresource, and management.


Contemporary families are diverse in nature, reflecting the socioeconomic environments surrounding them. The idea that a traditional family exists, from which students can compare and contrast other nontraditional family units, is nonproductive to the goals and objectives of family service providers. It is necessary, however, to categorize and define families when public and private programs assess needs and determine qualified services for citizens based on that designation. Chapter 2 presents a framework for understanding contemporary family definitions and structures.

Joe and Rocia have three children. Joe recently lost his job. To qualify for financial assistance through various local and state programs, they must meet the criteria of those programs in terms of how a family is defined. Some programs may only be available to them if they are legally married. Other assistance programs may provide more resources if Rocia is unmarried. These discrepancies challenge ethical decision making and may result in a weakening of family structure. Some assistance may be available based on their household status regardless of whether they share a home. If Joe is not the biological father of the children, his assistance may only be based on what is deemed necessary for a single male.

In terms of family resource management, it is assumed that families are units where members strive to meet the needs of all members while maintaining that family unit over a period of time. Thus, families have both individual and group needs. Identification and communication of these needs are continual. To satisfy these needs, resources must be identified and secured. Money and material possessions are easiest to identify as important family resources; however, the human resources available among all family members are just as important, if not even more essential, to the family’s survival and maintenance.

The processes of identifying needs and securing resources are dynamic within a family unit. Situations arise in frequent, repetitive ways that allow many decisions to become subconscious and almost habitual. Family members shopping for a weekly supply of groceries may cruise down the store aisles identifying and purchasing an assortment of products with little deliberation. These products have been identified through previous decision-making processes; until family members decide that these basic products are no longer meeting their needs, they are habitual purchases. Other situations require more deliberation and information seeking. The working parent who is confronted on Monday morning with an ill childcare provider must find a specific resource to meet an acute need. The stress level in this type of decision is much higher because this decision impacts the family unit on multiple levels.


Humans consume and require massive amounts of resources for survival, physical growth, and personal growth. Basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and clothing are obvious. Other resources are necessary to facilitate education, community, and recreation. The study of family resource management considers both consumption of resources and the availability/expenditure of human resources by family members.

The identification of resources to meet specific needs is guided by cultureavailability, and accessibility. Tap water quenches thirst, yet an individual may choose to buy bottled water for family drinking purposes. A single-family detached house may be preferred, but if apartments are the only choice available, a family may make do until other options surface. An Ivy League college may be a student’s choice, but if he or she does not meet the requirements for admission, another selection must be made.

As families identify needs, their focus turns to finding ways to fulfill those needs. The number of possible solutions will vary depending on the particular need. These solutions, however, always require resources. The larger the pool of resources, the higher the probability that needs will be met efficiently and effectively. In managing family resources, sufficiency is also an important consideration. Will family members accept a solution that just meets their minimum expectations? Old newspapers suffice for bathroom use, but not everyone would accept this choice. Because family needs are dynamic and ongoing, any one particular resource may prove useful on some occasions, but not even be considered at other times.

Families may substitute some resources for others depending on the situational variables. Lunch may consist of a peanut butter sandwich when time is limited but may be a multicourse feast when time is not an issue. Money is often substituted for time in resource selection. Fast food, airline travel, and lawn-care services are examples of this resource transfer or exchange. The complexity of individuals and families elevates the complexity of resource identification and selection when compared to resource management in the business setting.

IN THE NEWSBoomerang Commuters

In April 2011, FoxNewsInsider coined the phrase “Boomerang Commuters” to describe the growing trend of two-career, two-households, two-city family units. Creamer (2011) reported on this dramatic rise of commuter marriages in The Sacramento Bee.Current statistics suggest that almost three million American couples fit the definition of commuter couple: “Men and women in dual-career marriages who desire to stay married, but also voluntarily choose to pursue careers to which they feel a strong commitment. They establish separate homes so they can do so” (Rhodes, 2002).

Why has the number of commuter couples risen from around half a million couples in 1980 to this new high? Some believe that the economy has driven many couples to split to find jobs as the unemployment rates rose in the recent past. Others suggest that it may be more a sign of the rise of working women. Rates are higher among professional, academic and white-collar workers than in lower socioeconomic circles. In the past, the poor in society have endured long separations to find work. The new commuters, however, seem to be a phenomenon of education and relative privilege (Creamer, 2011). The average age of commuting spouses is 51, and the average length of marriage for commuting couples is 22 years (Bergen, 2010).

Marriages, and families within these commuter arrangements, face complex and unusual challenges in family resource management. While it may facilitate financial resource acquisition, separation and maintenance of multiple living sites can be mentally and physically demanding. The demographics of this group indicate that very young children are not part of the mix, but this age group is part of the “sandwich generation,” serving as support for their young adult children and their aging parents.

Weisser (2006) suggests three strategies to help commuter couples swing the dual reality. First, tap into any support employers might provide. Some may provide expense accounts for travel, meals, housing, and utilities to employees. If Internet access is crucial to job performance, the company may provide an allowance to the employee for such service. Second, use all relevant mileage plans—flights, car rentals, hotel charges, restaurants. Finally, be diligent when managing the finances within these living arrangements. Don’t forget to keep long-range financial plans in the picture.


The history of family sciences is closely linked to that of business management. Both fields emerged in academia at about the same time, and both began with efforts to facilitate efficient and effective use of resources. Many of the management theories applied to individual and family resource management stem from business management. Many of the human resource theories are supported by research in family science and other social sciences. Business management focuses on planning, organizing, leading, and controlling the use of resources to accomplish performance goals. The goal of any business is the maximization of this process. It is a conscious effort and a constant process. Choices must be made and evaluated continually.

Although the family is not a business, it does have many of the same goals that a business addresses. Management theories are explored from both the business and family conceptual frameworks in Chapter 3. Business decisions generally have a stronger hierarchical base and more tangible factors available in the decision-making process. Most family management activity begins with that same decision-making process, but family management exists on a higher personal level with more emotional, intangible types of factors to consider. The decision-making process is a major concept addressed and explored throughout this text.


There are many ways that individuals and families go about making decisions. Janis (1989) proposes the rational model, presuming that, in the process of making decisions, there are purposeful goals and objectives. Rational decision making involves searching for alternatives, assessing consequences, estimating risk or uncertainty, determining the value of consequences, and selecting the action that maximizes attainment of those desired objectives. Decisions that have long-lasting impact on a family unit would benefit from this type of structure. Selection of educational programs and disease treatment options are often approached within this type of framework.

Pfeffer (1987) proposes another model that draws from rules, procedures, and processes, rather than the effort to maximize values. The bureaucratic model relies on habitual ways of doing things and is appropriate only for low-risk and uncontested decision situations. Although this model is more appropriate for business decisions, there are some frequent, low-risk decisions that must be made by families. Grocery shopping, especially for staple items, often operates this way.

The political model of decision making (Pfeffer, 1987) produces outcomes that are related to the power of individuals within the group. This model recognizes that individuals within the unit may have differing interests and acknowledges that conflict is normal or at least customary. Although decisions made within this model are seldom perfect for all members, the acts of bargaining and compromising result in member support for the final decision. Decisions specific to family relocation are often reached using this approach. Although children are greatly affected by such moves, it is generally more of a negotiation among the adults where power becomes a crucial influence.