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Affection, workload and worries about the future

A University of Freiburg study illustrates the work-life situation for women in agriculture

Freiburg, Feb 18, 2019

Affection, workload and worries about the future

Despite mismatched work-life balance the women feel a strong connection within rural areas. Photo: Manuel Schönfeld/

How can politicians design future funding programs in such a way that working in agriculture remains an attractive profession while contributing to the sustainable development of rural areas? In order to find answers, a team led by Prof. Dr. Heiner Schanz from the Institute of Environmental Social Sciences and Geography at the University of Freiburg interviewed around 2,400 women with a connection to one of the agricultural enterprises in Baden-Württemberg on behalf of the Ministry for Rural Affairs and Consumer Protection. The study results are now available and serve as a basis for developing theories on the sustainable development of rural areas. “For the first time, we have a broad, comprehensive database on women’s reality of life and work in agriculture,” explains Minister Peter Hauk.

“It is clear that the educational expansion of recent decades applies to rural areas as well,” says Schanz. The younger respondents have a higher overall formal level of education: 33 per cent of respondents under 30 said they had a university degree, while 17 per cent of the 31- to 60-year-olds said they did, and only eight per cent of the over-61s said they did. “However, the demands placed on agricultural operations are in danger of acting as a 'career decelerator' for the profession for which they studied,” says the Freiburg professor, thereby resulting in a correspondingly lower average gross income for women outside agriculture. At the same time, this income contributes significantly to the total income of family farms.

In addition, the study makes it clear that the situation for women in agriculture is still characterized by a traditional role distribution, despite increased levels of education. Household management, for example, is largely a women's matter, and every third partner never participates in it - a change towards a more even distribution is also not discernible among the younger interviewees. The result is a heavy demand on women’s time and a mismatched work-life balance. Nevertheless, the vast majority are predominantly satisfied with their work and participate in “agriculture with affection,” says Schanz.

While most of the participants still foresee the short-term future prospects of their operations for the next five years as good, the majority are worried about their existence for the next ten years. The reasons given by the women are not primarily related to profitability, but to increasing legal requirements and bureaucratic hurdles. The participants in the study see this danger additionally reinforced by agriculture’s negative public image.

All in all, the women feel a strong connection and rootedness within rural areas. More than 80 per cent of the interviewees rated positively how their region, especially those with a good socio-economic situation, has developed in recent years. The need for action is seen primarily in the Internet and telecommunications sectors, but also in transport connections. The entrepreneurial potential of women for the sustainable development of rural areas emerges: offices with political responsibility, on the other hand, are perceived only cautiously due to lack of time. “It is an important result of our study,” explains the professor from Freiburg, !that women would like to help shape the future of their region, but do not see any opportunities or the necessary time to do so.”


Prof. Dr. Heiner Schanz
Institute of Environmental Social Sciences and Geography
University of Freiburg
Tel.: 0761/203-8502