Agrarische huishoudens : een onderzoek naar de veranderende relatie tussen gezin en bedrijf in Oost - Gelderland

S.I. Zwart

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    This study of farm family households in the east of The Netherlands is based on a field survey carried out in spring 1984. Rapid changes in the structure and processes of agriculture in the Netherlands since the 1950's and radical change in the family, notably with relation to sex roles, have caused increasing political and academic concern for the future and the viability of family farming. This has also led to women's position in agriculture being subjected to much discussion and increasing scholarly interest. These, the most important motives for initiating this study, are outlined in the first chapter, together with the most important post-war changes in Dutch agriculture. This chapter also includes a review of the literature on the changing forms and functions of family and marriage and of women's position in family and society and it ends by discussing the implications of these changes for farm families and farm women.

    The second chapter presents a detailed description of the study. It includes a definition of the research problem, a description of its theoretical basis, concepts and hypotheses, an explanation of the design of the study and finally a description of the construction of the questionnaires and the sampling and data collection methods.

    Farm family households are social institutions composed of complex networks of interwoven and mutually dependent roles. The family and the farm enterprise are thus seen as interdependent social subsystems. This view of the farm family household yields the first main theme of this study: how family and farm are intertwined. The way in which this interconnectedness is shaped, its specific form, is subject to change because it is linked to the particular historical, social and cultural environment in which it is situated.

    This view of the farm family household leads on to an elaboration of the second main theme of this study: the sexual division of labour and decisions. The way in which husband and wife divide or share labour and decisions in various domains is not an isolated phenomenon. In this study it is interpreted as an aspect of family structure. Until recently the way in which families divided work and decisions was subject to traditional sex role ideology. Husband and wife, father and mother, farmer and farmer's wife were roles with relatively well defined rights and obligations. But during the last 30 years this normative structure has been weakening and other factors are becoming more important in determining how marital roles take shape.

    By placing the two main themes of this study (the way in which family and farm are intertwined and the sexual division of labour and decisions) within the context of societal change, the differences found in farm couples in these two respects can be interpreted as ultimately resulting from general processes of change as they relate to agriculture and marriage and the family. For theoretical as well as for common sense reasons four complexes of factors were selected for this study: factors related to farm characteristics and agricultural change; sex role ideologies; the household cycle; and socio-demographic characteristics. Consequently an eclectic research model emerged, and the following basic research questions were formulated.

    1) Are there differences between farm family households in the way family and farm are intertwined? And, if so, which variables cause these differences?
    2) Are there differences between farm family households in the way husband and wife divide labour and decisions in various domains? And, if so, which variables cause these differences?
    3) What is the relationship between the way family and farm are intertwined and the way in which husband and wife divide labour and decisions?

    The fieldwork for this study was carried out in Winterswijk local government area, situated in the east of the province of Gelderland. This particular local government area was chosen because several studies were done in the fifties, describing its agriculture and its farm family households, and these provided valuable baseline data. A stratified sample of 92 farm couples younger than 65 years on farms larger than 5 ha was drawn, evenly divided over various ages. Husband and wife were interviewed at the same time but independently from each other, using two partly overlapping, partly different standardized questionnaires.

    In chapter three a brief history of the community of Winterswijk is given. Various characteristic features of the region are outlined and the correspondence between Winterswijk and other regions in the Netherlands in terms of agriculture, farms, families and households is discussed. The farms and farming do not differ greatly from those elsewhere in the country. Until recently, traditional multigeneration family households were relatively numerous in this region, whereas in most other regions in The Netherlands the nuclear family household was the dominant pattern. In the fifties about half of Winterswijk's farm households consisted of members of three or four generations living communally in the same house.

    In chapter four a descriptive analysis of the farm family households and their farms is presented. The first section deals with socio- demographic characteristics and household features such as age, education, religious affiliation, household composition, life cycle, neighbourhood bonds, and participation in professional and social organizations. Since the fifties, nuclear families have gradually loosened the close ties with their relatives, the church and the neighbourhood in a process which is generally described as family nuclearization and individualization. Nuclear families of successive generations nowadays have their separate living arrangements, even though they remain working together on the same farm. Families have closed, in the sense that they tolerate less interference in family matters from relatives, neighbours and church. Farmers and farmers' wives are more strongly oriented toward the world beyond their own community than their counterparts 30 years ago. For instance the strong preference for a marriage partner from the same neighbourhood, the same church and the same socio-economic background that was typical in the older generation seems to be gradually diminishing with the younger.

    The sex role ideologies of the farm couple are also discussed. Opinions on women's place in family and society were measured on an attitudinal scale. It seems that women hold more modern sex role orientations than men. Moreover, younger women and those with a better education have more modern sex role orientations; to a lesser degree so do women who have more contact with agricultural extension officers. For the farmers, age and education were the most important determinants of their sex role orientations, and their religious affiliation was slightly less important.

    Next, the farms and the changes that have occurred in the 1950's are discussed. On average the farms have a cultivated area of 17 ha. The larger holdings generally specialize in dairy farming, the smaller ones often specialize in pigs or combine the two. Since the fifties considerable specialization, intensification, mechanization, and economies of scale have taken place and the influence of agro- industry and banking has increased. Consequently, rational economic considerations have assumed increasing importance in farming. Nevertheless the family is still central to the continuity of the farm enterprise.

    The farmers and their wives were asked how these changes of the last 40 years affected their satisfaction with their lives and their work. Men and women agreed on the most important aspects. Although farmwork is less physically demanding nowadays, the psychlogical pressure under which they have to work is greater. Both women and men experience more personal freedom and less control from the social environment. On the other hand, life moves at a faster pace and there is little time and very little opportunity for relaxed social contacts. The men in particular relatively frequently expressed feelings of social isolation. In contrast, women seemed to have gained more freedom for social participation and for orientation on the outside world, e.g. for further education and training and for joining clubs and organizations. The evaluations of the men and the women also differ. Women in particular experienced living with the older generation as an intrusion on their privacy and consequently as a heavy burden. Separating the households of the younger and the older generations and converting the farmhouse into separate dwellings for each family contributed greatly to their feeling of personal freedom. For the men the traditional living arrangements (generally with their own parents) carried less weight. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the farmers more often referred to the higher standard of living but also to financial problems. Although some women did mention economic pressures such as rising costs and taxes, in general the financial problems of the farm signified less of a burden to them than for their husbands. All in all the data suggest that according to their own evaluations, the women benefited more than did the men from the changes that have taken place since the fifties.

    Chapter four goes on to deal with the way family and farm are interwoven, by examining which aspects form a coherent and consistent pattern. These were: the spatial arrangements (i.e. the layout of the house and farm buildings) on-farm sale of products (retail), the use of a fixed household budget, separate bank accounts for household and farm enterprise, marriage settlements, and the legal form of the farm enterprise. Based on the aspects as mentioned, a mean interweave score was computed, which was used in the further analyses.

    The last section of this chapter describes farm couples' division of labour and decisions in a number of domains and also deals with the number of hours both spouses spend on household chores and farm work. The women do by far the larger share of the housework. On average farmers' wives spend 43 hours weekly on household chores including childcare; they get little help from others. The farmers spend an average of 1.7 hours per week on housework. On average, farmers spend 60 hours weekly on farm work, doing by far the largest share. All the women interviewed work on the farm for a number of hours per week, for an average of 20 hours per week. So, husband and wife have more or less equally long working days. Sons who will eventually succeed their fathers on the farm, also contribute considerably to the farm work. Daughters rarely do farm work, and the contributions of other family members are also negligible. Most of the farmers' wives have one or more fixed chores; typically these are feeding the calves and pigs, cleaning the sheds, milking parlour and milking equipment and, less frequently, milking. Other fixed chores women frequently perform and assume responsibility for are "cord keeping, financial administration, receiving telephone calls and running errands. Seen from the angle of the woman's life cycle, the following work pattern emerges. During the first years of marriage (or from the moment the couple starts cohabitating) before children are born, the young woman remains working in her original job. (Most of the women worked in the service sector and had not had any training in agriculture.) In many cases the woman's father-in-law, and sometimes also her mother in law, is still working along with the woman's husband . During the stage when children are born, the woman quits her off-farm job and gradually takes on a few farm chores. Sometimes she tries to catch up on her technical agricultural knowlegde of agriculture by following training courses. When the children reach primary school age her share in the farm work increases considerably as her father-in-law gradually withdraws. Her share in the farm work is reduced again when one of her children who will eventually take over the farm starts working with the father.

    In this study the farm couples' division of labour and decisions is envisaged as role enactment in various domains, i.e. the household, the social and recreational domain, emotional and expressive domain and the farm. The tasks and decisions relating to childcare were not treated as a separate domain but were divided between the other domains. Three dimensions of the division of labour and decisions were distinguished. As well as studying the relative participation of husband and wife in the tasks of the domains mentioned above, the role specialization versus role flexibility and the stereotypy of the role performance were dealt with. Starting from these domains and dimensions, the division of tasks and decisions among farm couples can be outlined as follows. The overall picture has a certain symmetry. Both the farmer and his wife operate in a more or less autonomous fashion in one domain, the women performing most of the household chores and the farmers most of the farm work, more or less along the lines of the traditional indoor/outdoor pattern. In contrast, the other domains are characterized much more by working together, sharing, flexibility and exchange, although traces of a traditional pattern remain here too, notably so in the emotional expressive domain. Decision making is shared to a larger extent. In the household domain the woman usually makes the decisions on daily matters that do not have major financial consequences, and the farmer makes the decisions on daily affairs concerning the farm. Typically major decisions within both domains are made jointly. At first sight this pattern corresponds with the traditional division of labour among urban middle-class married couples in the fifties. The highly specialized indoor/outdoor, housewife/breadwinner division of labour and joint decision making was typical of this pattern. In the farm households studied, I found a similar balance, although women seem to wield more control in farm matters than the farmers exercise over the household. Some of the women were visibly active in farm matters, doing fixed chores on a daily basis. In contrast, the farmers tend to help their wives with household chores, without assuming responsibilities of their own. On the other hand the data suggest that a certain degree of mutual adjustment between family and farm does indeed occur, but that it is the women who do most of the adjusting, adapting themselves to the demands of the farm.

    In the fifth chapter the hypotheses that were formulated at the outset of the study are explored and tested. In accordance with the design of the study, it explores the way sex role attitudes, farm characteristics, household cycle and social-demographic and participation variables explain the variation in how the spheres of family and farm are intertwined and how labour and decisions are divided between the farm couples. Finally the relationships between the two dependent variables are examined. It turned out that the way in which family and farm are intertwined is especially is connected with the economic inportance (Dutch farm size unit) of the farm enterprise. In the larger farms the delimitations in all aspects of both spheres were much sharper. Also, the intergenerational transfer of the farm and the ways the generations overlap, i.e. the ways in which they organize their living and housing arrangements and cooperate at the various stages of the life cycle, are very important to the concept of intertwinement of family and farm. However this concept cannot be understood in terms of economic and socio- structural factors only, but is also connected with cultural values. The nature of the interconnection between family sphere and farm aspects is shaped, is also connected to the couple's sex role ideologies. Couples with more egalitarian attitudes delineated sharper boundaries between family and farm.

    As regards the division of labour and decisions it first appeared that every dimension considered in this study has a specific pattern of relationships with the explanatory variables. The same holds true for the different domains. Each of the domains identified in the design of the study has its own dynamics and rules. So, even though there is in a sense, a certain spatial fusion of farm and household tasks in farm family households, especially as as far as women's work is concerned, these tasks cannot be regarded as a homogeneous continuum divided between farmer and wife according to the same logic. In the household domain as well as in the social and recreational and emotional-expressive domains, sex role ideologies are important determinants for the way tasks and decisions are divided.

    Concomitantly, the results of the survey indicate that a change toward a more symmetrical, flexible and non-stereotyped pattern is gradually taking place, with the younger and better educated couples showing a more modern pattern in all three dimensions. Relationships are not as clear cut for the farm tasks and decisions. Sex role attitudes play an important part here too, as becomes clear from the fact that women's work is largely restricted to chores in and around the farm buildings. However, no clearcut trend is discernable. The division of farm labour and decisions is strongly connected with the stage that has been reached in the intergenerational transfer of the farm, and on how the generations work and live together and on the corresponding characteristics of the farm. On farms where men of two generations (father and son) work together, the women play less active roles in farm affairs. In addition, the greater efficiency of the farm production process also fits in with a pattern of division of farm labour and decisions in which women tend to participate less.

    When the tasks and decisions of all the domains are considered, it appears that the woman's level of education and the efficiency of the organization of the production process both for milk and pigs, best predict an egalitarian, flexible and non-stereotyped way of dividing tasks and decisions. In other words, role enactment in farm family households can be understood from the way the farm production process is organized as well as from the age of the farm couple, which is an important indicator of peoples' sex role attitudes.

    As regards the relationship between the way family and farm are intertwined and the role enactment of farm couples, it is suggested that the processes of change taking place in both phenomena are part of a more comprehensive process of change and modernization in which attitudes towards farm organization and farm management probably also play a part.

    In chapter six the most important conclusions are summarized and reviewed in the light of the future of farm family households and women's position on the farm and in agriculture in the Netherlands. A number of theoretical aspects are questioned and some recommendations for agricultural and social policy are made.

    The problems and opportunities facing farm households in the Netherlands in the future, and the viability of the family farm are discussed within the context of how family and farm are intertwined. It is pointed out that farm family households should be viewed as dynamically adapting themselves to changing agriculture and society at large. Many failed to keep their place in agriculture in the post- war period. Those that succeeded transformed the traditional family patterns, modernized their farms and farm management and were able to adjust the two spheres in such a fashion that vital, contemporary units emerged, able to cope with the current situation and its problems. This vitality augurs well for the survival of the family farm. In the long term farm family households may be confronted with an increasing number of difficulties, and as a consequence they may find it increasingly difficult to redefine the relationships and the intertwinement of farm and family spheres. The future of family farming not only depends on current problems in agriculture and on its political, economic and technological conditions, but also on processes of change affecting marriage and the family, which can form a potential threat to the family farm. Phenomena like individualization, the loosening of family ties and increasing instability in marital relations may put the family farm under serious pressure in the future.

    To date, policymakers and extension officers have neglected the family context of agricultural enterprises, focusing instead on the model of a rational economic enterprise. Family matters are treated as separate, private aspects that are only indirectly related to the business enterprise. Family issues are not generally an object of agricultural policy, and policy makers tend to see marriage and the family in terms of traditional stereotypes. A better understanding of the interconnectedness of family and farm, as described in this study, promotes a realistic vision of family farming and benefits scholars, agricultural extension agencies and policy makers.

    The changes that have taken place in farm family households in the Nether~ lands since the fifties largely conform with the process of family nuclearization or individualization as outlined in mainstream family sociology. However, farm family households differ from the general picture in two respects. In the first place, in about half the families surveyed strong bonds exist between the generations, both spatially as well as in terms of intergenerational cooperation. Secondly, the farm family household can be conceived of as a multifunctional institution, which is a unit of consumption as well as a unit of production. In the context of mainstream family sociology these phenomena should be conceived of as a cultural lag, as somewhat archaic traits that will disappear in due course. However, this study suggests that family relationships in farm family households are in essence not traditional phenomena at all but should rather be viewed as idiosyncratic relations and functions. The way in which the intertwinement between family and farm is shaped in the farm family household, can be viewed as a dynamic answer to societal change. Consequently, the standard sociological view of farm families as essentially traditional is too narrow and needs to be revised.

    The position of the majority of women in Dutch agriculture is to a considerable degree defined by their marriage. As long as the family farm remains the dominant social context for agricultural production and as long as farms continue to be passed on from father to son, women's place in agriculture will remain primarily a derived one, embedded as it is in the family context. Farm women do not have an occupational status of their own. As well as pointing at this fundamental constant, this study highlights some of the marked changes that have taken place in the lives of farmers' wives. Some of these changes are connected with agricultural change, but others are related to women's position in family and society. These changes have had farreaching consequences on the type and the amount of farm work done by the women and on their household work, as well as on the general context of their everyday life.

    No major discontent with this situation was observed in this study. But future developments may bring some change to this situation. An increasing number of farmers' wives may continue their own career, but those who opt for a place on their husband's farm will increasingly claim better defined positions, with mutual rights and obligations delimited and accounted for formally. Also, an increasing number of women will want to farm in their own right, that is independent of their family and/or husband. Although in each of these three situations the woman's relationship to the farm is different, her position can be expected to become more problematic in the future. Therefore it is important for farm couples to face up to the formal material, economic and legal aspects of their relationship. Future farm couples would be well advised to agree formally on their mutual rights and obligations, not only regarding the farm but also regarding income-earning activities, and the household and childrearing. Although this advice conflicts with romantic values like unity and harmony, this study has made clear that both the couple's relationship and the farm business will benefit from this modern 'marriage de raison'.

    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Kooy, G.A., Promotor, External person
    Award date12 Sep 1990
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789067541756
    Publication statusPublished - 1990


    • households
    • families
    • statistics
    • family farms
    • structure
    • composition
    • farm management
    • sociology
    • kinship
    • farmers
    • netherlands
    • gelderland
    • achterhoek

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