Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family Farm Transactions in Norway: Unpaid Care across Three Farm Generations*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family Farm Transactions in Norway: Unpaid Care across Three Farm Generations*

Article excerpt


This article presents an analysis of patterns of care and unpaid work across generations in Norwegian farm families.1 It focuses on "beanpole" families, those with several living generations (Brannen, 2003). Understanding intergenerational relations and assistance has become increasingly important in conjunction with population ageing and a lengthening life span. A challenge is how to incorporate the complexity of intergenerational relations in theory and empirical research (Willson et al., 2003). In general, researchers have paid little attention to kinship relations amongst farming populations (Lee and Cassidy, 1981; Marotz-Baden et al., 1988). This article is a contribution to this field.

Farm families offer a compelling case for investigation of intergenerational relations and patterns of care (see Elder et al., 1995). It appears that the structure of current farm family life is a hybrid between the extended and the nuclear family forms (Melberg, 2003a). Although being centred on the two-generations (i.e., child-parent), a third and fourth generation can be found on many Norwegian farms.2 The popular image of farm life features close and supportive relations across the generations with kinship and extended family ties being stronger amongst rural than urban populations (Lee and Cassidy, 1985; Marotz-Baden et al., 1988). Acommon view is that farm families live family-centred lives, and earlier works clearly implied that interaction with kin was more frequent and more meaningful amongst rural residents.

While farm families today are in many ways much like other families, there are some differentiating characteristics such as being more likely to have parents and minor or adult children working and especially living together. However, while it is common for several generations to live together on the same farmyard, a Norwegian farmer is to an increasing degree working alone on the farm due to technological, economical, and structural changes (Melberg, 2003a). Within this living and working context, farm life is intertwined with off-farm spheres and blurs the distinction between work and family as members live and work in close proximity. In comparison with members of non-farm families, work life and home life tends to occur in the same or adjacent spaces.

In Norway, farm transitions (i.e., when younger generations take over the farm) were traditionally manifested by a formal contract comprising the older farmer's retirement pension.3 One part of the deal could be that the younger generation should take care of parents/in laws in older age (Bolstad, 1993). From this perspective it seems likely that farmers have valid reasons to interpret and respond to caring tasks differently than do other social groups (Garkovich, 1995). While farm wives and husbands are often geographically close to parents and in-laws and their tendency to help could be great, sons and daughters currently seem to choose different pathways into adulthood, having other expectations of farm life than earlier generations. Important implications of change in family farms are linked to the life choices made by the children of farmers. It is assumed that looser bonds amongst the generations might influence the patterns of unpaid work and care.

The arrangements of unpaid care are themes of this study. The research questions are as follows. Do differences in caregiving emerge amongst the generations and between genders? Which transfers of practical help take place across the generations on contemporary Norwegian farms? What is the role of public welfare services and institutions, such as homes for the aged and nursing homes, in influencing generational co-residence and assistance?


Family farming in Norway shows general features of modernisation and individualisation (Giddens, 1991; Inglehart, 1990), as well as rapid, sector-structural challenges. Demands on agriculture by international adjustments through World Trade Organization (WTO) membership and the GATT agreement include increased market-orientation, effectiveness and creativity, full-time farming, and decreased public funding. …

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