Gender Differences Exist in Farmer Emotional Health

Another State of Mind

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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The triple workload of home, farm and, often, off-farm employment, creates a unique set of stressors for farm women. (StockSeller_ukr, Getty Images)

The farmer cap may fit all genders, but not everything is created equal when it comes to emotional health.

"We often keep things inclusive when talking about 'farmer stress,' but there are experiences common to women in agriculture," says Adrienne DeSutter, a rural health consultant who farms with her husband's family near Woodhull, Illinois.

It's hard to put the diversity of jobs farm women manage into one bucket or scenario. "Regardless of the roles she plays, female farmers still face so many of the same stressors as male counterparts, such as financial concerns, work/home imbalance, lack of structure and routine, and the overarching personality trait that tells her, 'Pull up your bootstraps and get the job done no matter the circumstance,'" DeSutter says.

Additionally, women often shoulder the role of caretaker and, with that, the needs of those around them. And, she says it is not unusual to hear farm women express feelings of being isolated in their experiences. "The sense of relief they seem to feel when talking through their challenges with others who relate or 'get it' is almost visibly noticeable. Simply feeling validated and connected is a huge part of coping with stress for men and women alike," DeSutter explains.


The 2022 Census of Agriculture found 1.2 million female producers account for 36% of all producers. Fifty-eight percent of all farms had at least one female decision-maker.

Yet, there is a big gap in knowledge about the stresses specific to female farmers. That fact prompted the University of Iowa researchers Carly Nichols, assistant professor of geographical and sustainability sciences, and Jonathan Davis, assistant professor of occupational and environmental health, to create a survey tool to quantify the issues.

From 2020 to 2021, the researchers surveyed 592 Iowa women who were identified as farm operators by mail. Nichols personally interviewed some 70 female farmers.

"What stood out was the huge diversity of working arrangements for women farmers. And, we were looking only at Iowans who might answer differently than other regions with different commodities," Nichols says.

"In general, time pressures were the common theme. Answers highlighted the triple workload of home, farm and, often, off-farm employment, and the stress that comes with expectations for juggling that," she continues. Health insurance concerns were universal. Younger female farmers indicated more stress related to finances.


Recommendations to "seek professional help" are often a generic prescription for those in distress, but DeSutter says the term needs a refresh. "Therapy and counseling are life-changing for so many people, and you don't have to be in crisis mode to seek it," she says. Professionals can help with a wide range of personal life goals and "make us better humans."

DeSutter thinks the term "self-help" needs a makeover, too. "I like to think of it in a less fluffy way -- not like manicures or taking vacations but rather integrating self-management and maintenance practices to keep ourselves functioning and performing at our best levels.

"We need to know our triggers, instead of waiting for chaos and seeing what cools us down," DeSutter adds. "Pay attention to what brings you peace -- what levels you out and fuels you. Implement those self-management tools as you would machinery maintenance. If you don't keep yourself in check before the heavy lifting rolls around, you're bound to break down, too."


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