What influences a child to choose a career on the family farm, and when is that decision made? A new University of Illinois study of pre-teen farm youth suggests that the foundations for this life choice are set early and that maternal influence, rather than paternal expectations, may be key.
Although previous studies have focused on high-school-aged youth, Angela Wiley's training in child development led her to believe farm kids would be influenced toward or against farming earlier than that. "Research implies that an important life decision such as this would be rooted in the early activities, education, and relationships of farm children," she says.
Wiley, an assistant professor in human development and family studies, surveyed 40 farm children aged 10 to 13 and also interviewed their parents. She found that children who did more work at home were more likely to plan to farm, that mothers had more influence than fathers on farm children's future plans, and that perceptions of parental worry over the family farm's future also affected children.
"Mothers have a strong influence on farm children. It may be that children, as they work around the house, have more opportunity to take in their mother's attitudes toward farming. If she is positive about farming as a career choice and a lifestyle, it may affect the child's later decision," Wiley says.
Although farm parents were careful to keep anxiety about the farm operation from their children, Wiley's respondents picked up on it anyway. If they believed their parents were worried about the farm, there was a "let-me-make-it-better" effect, says Wiley, that led the children to plan to continue in the family business.
"They seem to have taken on a sense of responsibility from an early age that this is a family endeavor and I need to do my part," Wiley says. "Their plans to farm later may be an attempt to ease their parents' worries and to ensure the continuance of the family enterprise."
Wiley says parents are finding time to talk and be with their children. And this investment is likely to pay off in the future not only in terms of children's development and adjustment, but also in terms of the viability of family farms, she concludes.