Working women, the backbone of family farms


The role of women in farming continues to evolve. The added stress of working off the farm while balancing traditional responsibilities can be difficult to manage.

The “old-fashioned” gender roles for women in agriculture in the United States was often the homemaker, emotional caregiver and family supporter. As the pressures and demands in the farming industry continue to evolve, so too has the role of women in agriculture. The new cultural norm for working women in farming often looks more equally divided, with both men and women being involved in farm and family management. The added responsibility of farm and family management doesn’t come without emotional strain and adds to the stress of women in farming.

According to Kubik et. al (2005)women in agriculture work long hours on and off the farm, which often goes unacknowledged. They found women also experience pressure to assume the role of a traditional farm wife, which creates expectations they often feel they have difficulty living up to. Like all farmers, high levels of stress in response to economic and family pressures can build over time and further contribute to chronic stress. For the purpose of this article, we will be concentrating on the stress women in agriculture may feel.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in 2017, 56% of farms had female producers responsible for making farm operation decisions. Trying to balance the evolving role and expectations can be emotionally taxing on women in agriculture. The woman interviewed for this article describes how she balances her roles in having an off-the-farm job, working-on-the-farm work, and traditional roles that keep the family and farm running smooth. Listen below as she explains her supporting role, added stress of having an off-farm job and how she maintains a healthy work life balance.

Whether it’s the added income from an off the farm job, emotional support, helping hand or late night bookkeeping, women in farming play a pivotal role alongside their counterparts to both farm and family management.

Opportunities to connect

Recognizing the stress that is involved in agriculture, MSU Extension has now partnered to create a free, online farm stress course that is available to the public. To register and access the course, visit: Rural Resilience: Farm Stress Training. In addition, MSU Extension’s many resources and information on farm stress can be found at the Managing Farm Stress website. There you will find descriptions of programs such as Communicating with Farmers Under Stress and Weathering the Storm, as well as other articles, projects and resources. Learning self-awareness, signs and symptoms of stress, mental illness and suicide can better enable the farming community to support each other during trialing times.