The Hidden Work of the Farm Homemaker

Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health
  • Reed, Deborah;
  • Browning, Steven R.;
  • Skarke, Lana;
  • Westneat, Susan C.


Despite women's involvement in agricultural production, the work role of women residing in farm households has not been thoroughly examined. Data collected in 1994-1995 as part of the NIOSH-sponsored Farm Family Health and Hazard Surveillance Project were used to address task issues and health status of farm women in Kentucky. In 1996, the farm woman component of the Kentucky study was replicated in five counties in west Texas, allowing an examination of farm women in two large agricultural states. The Kentucky study employed a two-stage cluster design; the Texas study was based on a systematic quota sample of farms. Both studies selected a sample of women aged 18 years and older living in farm households. A total of 992 women in Kentucky (response rate = 85%) and 665 women in Texas completed a structured 30-min telephone interview on work roles, health status, injuries, and demographics. The results indicated that although 46.4% of the Kentucky respondents and 46.3% of the Texas respondents characterized themselves as farm homemakers, they regularly engaged in farmwork. Reported tasks included work with animals, tobacco-related chores, field irrigation, farm equipment operation, and farm management. Further, women who characterized themselves as homemakers reported rates of farm injuries that were comparable with women who classified themselves in other roles such as full agricultural partners. Role definition may influence the woman's perception of risk on the farm, preclude participation in farm safety programs, and prevent an accurate occupational medical history. This two-state descriptive study highlights the hidden work role of the farm woman — a role that remains invisible to the farm woman herself — and emphasizes the important occupational exposures that farm women encounter.

Full article can be found in: Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health
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