UNE survey sums up varied views on farm daughter-in-laws

Grain Central July 5, 2024

A UNIVERSITY of New England study has looked into how daughters-in-law are viewed in family farming operations, and come up with some startling contrasts.

The team of five UNE researchers, led by UNE gender equality researcher Dr Lucie Newsome, published their investigation online at Science Direct.

On one hand, the researchers found, the “dreaded daughter-in-law” was essential for the continuation of the family farm, and on the other, she may be seen as the biggest threat to its continuation, described by interviewee as “the most dangerous animal on the farm”.

In an analysis based on interviews with 22 farm-succession professionals, the researchers noted that in particular, the older landholding generation in farming families can be highly defensive against attempts by daughters-in-law to undertake any role other than the dutiful farmer’s wife.

Farming families have commonly been resistant to the prospect of a daughter-in-law changing established ways of doing things on the farm, or worse, making a claim on the farm asset in the event of divorce.

The rising value of farmland, and growing reliance on the farm as a form of superannuation, has raised the stakes on a smooth intergenerational transfer of assets.

By association, rising values have also raised expectations that daughters-in-law will conform to family expectations and not rock the boat.

But squashing a daughter-in-law’s contribution into a narrow, preconceived role can also be a missed opportunity.

One interviewee told the researchers:

“A lot of these girls have sacrificed a lot and … are whip-smart and actually could contribute enormously to these businesses being more successful if (the older generation would) just put fear aside, be clear about what they’re frightened of, deal with it, and move on.”

The researchers concluded that changing gender norms and legal rights, and the economic destabilisation of family farming, should encourage reconsideration of the daughter-in-law’s role on the farm.

They wrote: “…defensive mechanisms to isolate and devalue the role of the daughter-in-law in reproducing the family farm may be counterproductive. In attempting to preserve the status quo of gender relations, family farm businesses are failing to prepare for a changing business and social environment.”

The report noted that young daughters-in-law under pressure might find relief as they age into the family enterprise.

“As they age, women’s agency in relation to men and other women in the family may strengthen.

“As women’s tenure in the farm family increases, her influence and authority strengthens as she moves from daughter-in-law to matriarch.”

Dr Newsome hopes that in future, such resolutions are not delayed, and that instead, there will be growing recognition of the need for “open and continuous succession-planning discussions that recognise the contributions of all family members”.

Source: UNE


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