Articles & Special Issues Financial Capability Financial Inclusion

Financial Capability in Early Social Work Practice: Lessons for Today

During the profession’s first decades, social workers tried to improve their clients’ financial capability. This article describes the methods used by early social workers who attempted to enhance the financial capability of their clients, based on contemporary descriptions of their practice. Social workers initially emphasized thrift, later adding more sophisticated consideration of the cost of foods, rent, and other necessities. Social work efforts were furthered by home economists, who served as specialists in nutrition, clothing, interior design, and other topics related to homemaking. Early home economists included specialists in nutrition and family budgeting; these specialists worked with social services agencies to provide a financial basis for family budgets and assisted clients with family budgeting. Some agencies engaged home economists as consultants and as direct providers of instruction on home budgets for clients. By the 1930s, however, social work interest in family budget problems focused on the psychological meaning of low income to the client, rather than in measures to increase client financial capability. Consequently, social workers’ active engagement with family budget issues—engagement that characterized earlier decades—faded. These early efforts can inform contemporary practice as social workers are once again concerned about improving their clients’ financial capability.

Project: Financial Capability & Asset Building


Stuart, P. H. (2016). Financial capability in early social work practice: Lessons for today. Social Work, 61(4), 297–304. doi:10.1093/sw/sww047