Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

`Farmers' Wives': Women Who Are Off-Farm Breadwinners and the Implications for On-Farm Gender Relations

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

`Farmers' Wives': Women Who Are Off-Farm Breadwinners and the Implications for On-Farm Gender Relations

Article excerpt


The increased participation of married women and mothers in paid employment has had profound implications on attitudes and expectations towards women's activities in the public and private spheres. The changes that occur within the family when women also work outside the home are of considerable interest to social scientists. There is a well-established body of research on conjugal relationships, family households and women's income. The Resource Bargaining school argues that women who contribute mote to family income expect, and receive, more equitable sharing of decision-making power (Blood and Wolfe, 1960; Blumstein and Schwartz, 1983; Rogers and DeBoer, Z001L and family work responsibilities (Booth et al., 1984). The gender ideology school, on the other hand, suggests that where women are active in the labour market, there is not necessarily any significant renegotiation of housework or childcare (Morris, 1990; Pahl, 1989). It is put forward that it is not increased resource contributions that lead to renegotiated domestic work, but rather gender ideologies (Layte, 1998; West and Zimmerman, 1987).

This article examines the fundamental changes that are occurring on farms in Northern Ireland. The income of the agricultural industry shows a dramatic fall every year. Reduced European subsidies indicate this trend is likely to continue. The majority of farms are not viable without some other source of income. This article will demonstrate that it is women's off-farm work that is now central to the maintenance of the farm. International research on farm women in the past has shown that their farm work tended to be `invisible', under-valued, and unrecognized in agricultural statistics (Alston, 1995; Sachs, 1983; Shortall, 1999; Whatmore, 1994). Examining this shift to occupying the breadwinner role, and supporting what has been such a traditional industry, allows us to shed an empirical light on the debates in the literature and to examine whether women's increased resources contribute to significant renegotiation of domestic responsibilities and gender role expectations.

It will be argued that the literature presumes an individualistic position. Farm households, however, require analysis at the level of the household (Wheelock and Oughton, 1996) to explore what off-farm employment by women means for gender role expectations and the division of labour within the farm family. It is argued that women's off farm labour is part of a farm household survival strategy to maintain the farm and a man's occupation as the farmer. His occupation continues to be seen as the primary one, and there is no overt renegotiation of gender roles or domestic responsibilities. In one sense women's off-farm earnings continue to reader them invisible because it is this work that allows the continued presentation of farming as the primary family occupation. Yet, women did not express any grievance regarding this situation. There is evidence, however, that men have difficulties with the reversal of the breadwinner role.

The article is structured as follows. It begins with an overview of the literature on women's paid employment and negotiated domestic labour and gender role expectations. It then provides contextual information on agriculture in Northern Ireland and the European Common Agricultural Policy. Next the study, rationale and methodology on which this article is based are outlined. The findings are presented, and the need to adopt the farm household as the unit of analysis when exploring the potential for off-farm work to lead to renegotiated gender role expectations is underlined.

Relevant literature: an overview

The Resource Bargaining school of research argues that increased earnings provide women with a stronger bargaining tool to negotiate power relations and domestic work within the household (Blood and Wolfe, 1960; Blumstein and Schwartz, 1983; Booth et al. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.