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Misconceptions about older farmers' roles and value: implications for rural community public health and safety.

Cole-HP; Murphy-D
The Aging Farm Community: Using Current Health and Safety Status to Map Future Action, March 6-8. 2007, Indianapolis, Indiana. Urbana, IL: Agricultural Safety & Health Network, 2007 Mar; :11
Older farmers often are perceived as being relatively unimportant because they won't live much longer, will soon leave farming, are not worth investment of resources that could be put to better use, don't have much farm production economic value, are set in their ways, resistant to learning and are unable to continue farm work safely because of age related infirmities. Contrary to these perceptions older farmers have large economic, social, and cultural capital and contribute directly to the wellbeing of their communities and the nation. For nearly 50 years a mass exodus of older operators from farming has been predicted as imminent, but has never occurred. From 1959 to 1997 the number of principal farm operators < age 65 years declined steadily from 3.1 million to 1.4 million. During the same period principal operators age 65 years declined from 550,000 in 1959 to a low of about 350,000 in 1978 and thereafter, rose steadily to about 450,000 in 1997. During the 1959 to 1978 period farmers age 65 years comprised about 18% of U.S. farm operators. By 1997 the proportion of older farm operators grew to 25%. The 2002 Census of Agriculture reported that farm operators age 65 years comprise 25% of all U.S. farmers, own 18.8 percent of all U.S. farms, 21.3% of all farm land, and account for 14.5% of total U.S farm income. Many older farmers have key social roles that contribute directly to the social capital of their communities. The core idea of social capital is that social networks have value. Communities with high social capital are healthier, safer, and more productive. Older farmers also have large stocks of cultural capital. Unlike economic capital, cultural capital cannot be inherited. Rather is it is acquired through learning and enculturation. It consists of an individuals accumulated aspirations, knowledge, memories, skills, strategies, and expertise. Older farmers, like all persons who age, lose perceptual and motor capabilities that do indeed place them at greater risk for injury from hazards encountered in farm work. However, like older adults in general, older farmers strategic knowledge and expertise provides them with compensatory strategies allowing them to work safely and productively. This pattern is documented in studies of older versus younger typists, automobile drivers, airline pilots, and the frequency with which younger and older farmers overturn tractors. Persons who perform most proficiently, and often most safely, the complex tasks related to their realworld experience and expertise are typically older, not younger people. The roles and value of older farmers in rural communities are described. Methods for enlisting their help in promoting safety for the benefit of younger folks and themselves are discussed.
Farmers; Age-factors; Age-groups; Agricultural-industry; Agricultural-workers; Agriculture; Health-services; Health-standards; Health-surveys; Safety-climate; Safety-measures; Safety-monitoring; Safety-personnel; Safety-practices; Occupational-hazards; Occupational-health; Occupational-psychology; Occupations; Education; Injuries; Injury-prevention; Tractors
H. Cole, University of Kentucky, Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology, 1141 Red Mile Rd, Ste. 102, Lexington, KY 40504-9842
Publication Date
Document Type
Email Address
Funding Type
Agriculture; Cooperative Agreement
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Identifying No.
Source Name
The Aging Farm Community: Using Current Health and Safety Status to Map Future Action, March 6-8. 2007, Indianapolis, Indiana
Performing Organization
University of Kentucky
Page last reviewed: January 27, 2023
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division