Spotlight on farming’s “dreaded daughter-in-law” paradox

Sheep Central July 3, 2024

RESEARCHERS have unsparingly laid out the uncomfortable paradox experienced by women who marry into intergenerational family farming businesses.

On one hand, researchers from the University of New England (UNE) found, the “dreaded daughter-in-law” is essential for the continuation of the family farm. On the other, she may be also seen as the biggest threat to its continuation – “… the most dangerous animal on the farm”, as one interviewee put it.

A team of five UNE researchers, led by gender equality researcher Dr Lucie Newsome, have published their investigation into family farm daughters-in-law online at Science Direct.

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.”

But Dr Newsome hopes that in future, such resolutions are not delayed. She hopes 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.”


Click here to view the full report.


Source: UNE




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