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Food Expenditure, Food Preparation Time and Household Economies of Scale


  • Victoria Vernon

    (University of Texas at Austin)


This paper is concerned with the effect of household size on the allocation of household money and time to food consumption. A broad literature has examined household economies of scale. Since food is a private good, it might be expected that larger households, which could economize on shared goods such as housing, would spend more per equivalent household member on food. However, recent studies have found the opposite result: for households with similar total expenditures, larger families spend less per capita on food. This paper examines household time inputs and shows that economies of scale in preparing food can explain this result. I introduce economies of scale into a household production model. The size of the household changes both the relative price of a unit of food and the time required to prepare it, affecting household demand for both inputs to food production. Larger households can achieve the same level of consumption at lower expenditure by substituting cheaper production time for more expensive ingredients. Using household expenditure and time-use survey data from Russia, I estimate the effect of changing household size on food expenditures and food-related time. The estimates indicate that doubling the size of household reduces per capita food expenditure by over 30% and per capita preparation time by about 75% in households with two and more people. A married man from a two adult household spends three times less time preparing food than a single man living alone. For a woman, a transition from a single to a two-person households results in more modest time saving of 45% in case such transition is not a result of a marriage. A married woman enjoys no time savings at all, while a woman with children spends more time in food-related activities than her single counterparts. I also find that the time intensity of meals increases with household size, but that the quality of meals is unaffected by changes in household size.

Suggested Citation

  • Victoria Vernon, 2004. "Food Expenditure, Food Preparation Time and Household Economies of Scale," Labor and Demography 0412005, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpla:0412005
    Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 50

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Reuben Gronau & Daniel S. Hamermesh, 2008. "The Demand for Variety: A Household Production Perspective," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(3), pages 562-572, August.
    2. Bhattacharya, J. & DeLeire, T. & Haider, S. & Currie, J., 2003. "Heat or Eat? Cold-Weather Shocks and Nutrition in Poor American Families," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 93(7), pages 1149-1154.
    3. Gibson, John, 2002. "Why Does the Engel Method Work? Food Demand, Economies of Size and Household Survey Methods," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 64(4), pages 341-359, September.
    4. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2004. "Consumption vs. Expenditure," NBER Working Papers 10307, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Trevon D. Logan, 2011. "Economies Of Scale In The Household: Puzzles And Patterns From The American Past," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 49(4), pages 1008-1028, October.
    2. Bargain, Olivier & Donni, Olivier & Kwenda, Prudence, 2014. "Intrahousehold distribution and poverty: Evidence from Côte d'Ivoire," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 262-276.
    3. Berendeeva, Ekaterina & Ratnikova, Tatiana, 2016. "The Deaton–Paxson paradox in the consumption of Russian households," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 42, pages 54-74.
    4. Siwarat Kuson & Songsak Sriboonchitta & Peter Calkins, 2012. "Household determinants of poverty in Savannakhet, Laos: Binary choice model approach," The Empirical Econometrics and Quantitative Economics Letters, Faculty of Economics, Chiang Mai University, vol. 1(3), pages 33-52, September.
    5. Mottaleb, K. & Erenstein, O., 2018. "Gender Differentiated Impacts of Commodity Price Shocks on Households’ Consumption Behavior: A Natural Experiment," 2018 Conference, July 28-August 2, 2018, Vancouver, British Columbia 275915, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    6. Nancy Folbre & Marta Murray-Close & Jooyeoun Suh, 2018. "Equivalence scales for extended income in the U.S," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 16(2), pages 189-227, June.
    7. Bargain, Olivier & Donni, Olivier & Magejo, Prudence, 2011. "Intrahousehold Distribution and Child Poverty: Theory and Evidence from Côte d’Ivoire," IZA Discussion Papers 6029, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    8. Karbasi, A. & Mohammadzadeh, S.H., 2018. "Estimating Household Expenditure Economies of Scale in Iran," 2018 Conference, July 28-August 2, 2018, Vancouver, British Columbia 277152, International Association of Agricultural Economists.

    More about this item


    household economies; time use; household production; food consumption;

    JEL classification:

    • J - Labor and Demographic Economics


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