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How Work and Family Roles Influence Health, Mental Health, and Relationships within Farm Families: A Quantitative and Qualitative Approach

Alexis Swendener, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Work-family conflict and balancing work and family roles remain important and relevant concerns among many families in the United States today, and the challenges and incompatibility associated with these roles can lead to declines in health and relationship quality. A life course framework highlights that partnered individuals do not live their lives in isolation and that understanding how the stresses and experiences of one partner influences the other is key to understanding individuals' mental health, health, and relationships. In this dissertation I analyze links between farm women and men's objective (i.e., workload-based) and subjective (i.e., perception-based) experiences with work and family roles and associations with individual well-being and relationships. Overall, I find that farm women contribute substantially to their farming enterprises via various types of work and family roles. Through analyzing survey data from women on family farms and ranches (n=470), I found that farm women's objective experiences in work and family roles—including absolute work hours, splitting hours over multiple roles, performing the majority of the couple's relative work hours in each role and majority of work hours in multiple roles—are not associated with farm women's health, mental health, or relationship happiness. Instead, women's subjective experiences with work and family roles—including perceived role appreciation and actual vs. desired couple work arrangements—are associated with women's health and relationship outcomes. In addition, through analyzing interview data with farm men and women (27 couples, n=54), I found that farm couples negotiate not only the actual division of labor in on-farm, off-farm, and family roles, but also negotiate the meaning they ascribe to that division of labor, often in gendered ways. I conclude that women's objective, workload-based experiences in work and family roles may be undercounted due to different interpretations of what is considered "work" or "farm work" by men and women alike within the discourse of the family farm.

Subject Area

Mental health|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Swendener, Alexis, "How Work and Family Roles Influence Health, Mental Health, and Relationships within Farm Families: A Quantitative and Qualitative Approach" (2018). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10823021.