Women in farming and the agriculture sector: research report

Findings and recommendations from research into the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland.

9 Inheritance

Key findings

Cultural constraints are such that women are less likely to inherit land unless they do not have a brother: the normal expectation is that sons inherit land.

Unlike the rest of Europe, in Scotland it is possible to disinherit children.

Some men suggested that some women select themselves out of careers in farming, whereas women spoke explicitly about male favouritism being the main factor for this.

There were examples of women new entrants renting land while their brother inherited the family farm.

Issues were raised about the efficiency of handing on farms to sons regardless of their interest and enthusiasm for farming. There were examples of inheritance being a burden as well as a privilege.

Particular issues were raised about women on tenanted crofts. Only one tenant can be named and it is typically a man. In an instance of divorce, women can lose access to the family home on the croft.

9.1 Qualitative Analysis of Inheritance

A considerable amount of literature has considered how agriculture is shaped by inheritance patterns. In particular, inheritance patterns shape gender relations on farms. A persistent social pattern across most of western society is that, in the main, men inherit farms. This research considered whether the same patterns hold true for land transfer in Scotland. The research found similar patterns to elsewhere; both men and women are committed to the continuation of their farm through inheritance. In general men inherit farms from their fathers, or take over the tenancy on tenanted farms and crofts from their fathers.

Men spoke frankly about the normal expectation being that sons would continue the farm, and the importance of continuing the family name:

She's a tough cookie [his sister]. But she's not a farmer you know. ..and it's quite interesting, I didn't stay on that farm but despite the fact that I had a sister who was probably...would have made a better farmer than me, there was never any question of her having the opportunity rather than me as far as I'm aware. In a lot of places you know whereas the eldest son gets given the same name as the father and there was...in fact there's pressure on the poor guy probably to carry on the family business. #1 Men Focus Group # 1

Well I'm the third! I would go as far as to say that that...I believe that would still be to a degree a reason why a girl might be less encouraged even though she was a more appropriate person. #1 Men Focus Group # 3

In the quotes above, men recognised the cultural constraints that limit women's possibilities to be considered the heir. Later in the group interview, they moved away from a discussion of cultural constraints to suggest it was self-selection;

When do you start investing in her? It's easier with a son I think. #1 Men focus group # 3

Maybe the population of farmers self-selects for that and therefore they want to do those kind of outside and doing roles because it's the type of person they are and that's why they've stayed on the farm and maybe somebody else went away because it did'nae suit them. #1 Men focus group # 2

So are you saying the reason that women are not in farming is because they...actually have self-selected themselves out? #1 Men focus group # 4

But it can't just be pre-selection or conditioning, because there must be some natural element in it that drives women to be livestock farmers because there are a couple of folk I can think of that are prominent women arable farmers. Now we're seeing a lot of women driving tractors. #1 Men focus group # 3

Attention to detail is the key for those particular kinds of businesses. That first 60 hours of a chick's life with broilers and rearing that's the most important bit and that's where ladies are very good. #1 Men focus group # 4

In the quotes above, men are saying women are drawn to certain types of farming because of feminine traits. They say that women self-select out of farming. They had earlier talked about the importance of keeping the male name on the farm. One of the men in this group expects his fifteen year old daughter to take over the farm, and talked about how much she loved it and how it was in her blood. He has three daughters and no sons. His daughter has clearly not selected out.

Women were more explicit about the gendered inequalities in land ownership:

It's a crazy system in this country it really is! The farming side.

Well because I feel that why should the eldest son become...get the farm?

So many friends are having children at the moment and they're having...it's still for the men it's about having a son.

It's unbelievable in this day and age.

A son and heir, yeah. # Women in agricultural industry focus group

Women spoke of their particular frustration when they were farming in their own right as successful tenant farmers:

It's a son and heir and they've got these two glorious daughters or one daughter, however many daughters and you just think 'why on earth are you putting such emphasis on having a son when someone like me, I would hope is acting as a good role model for the fact that women are just as capable as men if not more so?' It drives me crazy actually it really does! # Women in agricultural industry focus group

Women also spoke of their difficulties with being passed over as an heir when they had a brother:

We still have a major hurdle to get over within the family on the...it always being the son would be the preferred one to take over and would be the one that would get the most focus of attention. It still happens yeah. # Women in agricultural industry focus group

Well I was born into the family farm, I'm the eldest of five children, four girls and a boy, and um... it was the boy who takes the farm. Well we [her and her husband] have been looking for probably the last two to three years for any farms coming up in the area it's just it's been ridiculous money - just silly, silly money. My parents own two farms, but I've been told...like I will never get any part of either one # Young new entrant women # 5

Inheritance patterns are a barrier to women's entry into agriculture. They do not as easily have access to the key resource; land. In the final quote above, this young woman's parents are becoming guarantor for her and her husband to rent land to farm.

However it seems that women can inherit land when there is no brother to continue the male line;

Aye! And 'oot of the three daughters my middle one is the one that's really keen to farm um...but its livestock that she's interested in. So we'll see how that goes.

She will?

Oh 100%. [Daughter is fifteen years old] #1 Men Focus Group # 2

Interviewer: Do you think you would have inherited if you'd had a brother?

Um...no! [Laughter] No I don't think...no because...well its very interesting because my...my grandfather evidently wanted...he definitely believed in everything going through the male line and we did find these letters recently that sort of indicated that actually that's the way he wanted to keep it. My father had a younger brother, so there was a big question when my father died, this is what people were saying,…should it have gone to the next male relative? # Woman owner landed estate # 14

In both cases above, a girl and a woman are the heirs because there are no male relatives. There were also examples of women considering their sons to be the natural heirs, as demonstrated in the quotes below:

I sometimes think it's a generation thing, they like to think that you're not doing it or...having a successful business sometimes like vets get that reputation as well when a female vet comes in about. Folk go oh dear! Which is terrible! I'd like to think that they would, I'd be appalled if someone said they weren't getting it because they were female. But there would be folk that do that.

Well one of them at the moment is born to farm, he just loves the farm work and loves going in the tractor, he loves being with his dad, anything involved. He's keen at the moment but he's only seven so...we'll encourage him. It's in the blood. # Woman married to farmer Orkney # 15 with two children, seven year old son and nine year old daughter

An interesting angle to the discussion about inheritance was about efficiency. Many people felt that 'handing' a farm to an heir led to inefficiencies. Some also thought that being identified as the heir brought unwanted obligations and limited freedom to make other choices. Previous research has also found this to be the case:

A chap working with me today… is the youngest son…he's a wee bit dyslexic but a very bright guy. His brothers all had the opportunity to go into the oil industry, make serious cash, but he has never had the chance to get off the farm because he was aye the one that was left catching up with Dad and Dad's 70 now and he's only starting to withdraw from the business and he is starting to build up a bit of a ground but he's having to tie up all the family things. He's never had the opportunity to make enough money to build a house even. #1 Men Focus Group # 4

I think we see that quite often in farm businesses where the son is doing it because he feels he has to. And because he's the automatic choice - Can't let down the family, and it reflects on often the farming practices. They are probably more likely to do what Dad has always done, not change anything, not be forward thinking, generalising massively here by the way but it does happen. # Women in agricultural industry focus group

By contrast new entrants felt they were highly motivated and better farmers for having made a conscious choice to enter this profession. They were aware that not having access to land was a major barrier for them. However they believed their willingness to overcome this obstacle demonstrated their commitment to being successful in the industry:

I also think you can do it because you think...its where your strengths lie. You're good at it and you can handle stock, and you can tell what's good stock and not good...that would be the biggest difference for new entrants is that we've chosen to do it. We're not doing it because the farm got handed down to us, we've made a conscious choice that that is the way we want...our lives to be. # Focus group new entrants

Well that's very true because I actually know a boy in his 40s whose father retired and he's got the farm and honestly...he's useless! It just fills me with horror! And I think to myself do you know you should have said look I don't want to do this! # Focus group new entrants

These quotes indicate that sometimes the heir sees the farm as a noose, and limits their options. Having the farm passed on can also lead to less innovative practice. In this research the dynamism of new entrants was very evident.

With crofts, the same pattern emerges. In tenanted crofts, it is the tenancy that is passed on, and in general, it is boys who inherit the tenancy from their fathers;

I think a crofting family, the father would be the crofter, the tenant in name, and he would be much more likely to leave it to his son than the daughter. # Women on crofts focus group

Of course that's the problem with crofting is that under the Crofting Act you can only have a single human being, being a tenant. I think that's a really important point because ...for women if most crofts...the majority of crofts are still tenanted and so if most crofts are tenanted and most of the tenants are men then in the case of something like divorce the wife has no rights whatsoever to anything because the whole croft including the house on which it is built is...still part of the croft. I don't know what would happen in the case of divorce or how difficult it would be so you can't force the husband to sell the house because it's part of the tenanted croft. Because we don't have any title deeds to our houses for instance. # Older woman crofter # 8

The same pattern emerges on crofts, although here there is an added dimension when the house is part of the croft. This may have particular implications for women in the case of divorce.

9.2 Quantitative Analysis of Inheritance

The importance of inheritance emerged primarily in the qualitative component of the research. However, there were a few patterns relating to inheritance identified in the statistics. For example, some 58% of main survey respondents and 57% of students and alumni agreed with the statement: 'inheritance patterns are a barrier to career choice'.

In light of the qualitative findings, a cohort analysis was conducted, comparing women who had inherited their farms (25% of main survey) against other land acquisition types ( e.g. inheritance of land through a spouse, spousal direct acquisition of land through purchase or tenancy). Women whose family inherited land tend to be younger (half were 35 and under), suggesting that change may be occurring in inheritance patterns. Inheritance by women was also more common in crofting (34% in comparison to 24% for the main survey). Crofting respondents were also more likely to have taken on the ownership or tenancy as an individual (16% in comparison to 5%). However, women who inherited farms did not find it any easier to influence farm decisions ( i.e. only about half of both women on farms inherited from her family, and women on farms inherited through a spouse, said it was 'easy' to get their ideas into farm business development). In both cases, this may reflect the existence of a preceding generation, other siblings or spouses who were making most decisions.

Another notable difference between the two cohorts was in identity as a farmer, with 40% of women living and working on farms inherited by her family identifying themselves as 'farmers' (in comparison to 30% of women on farms inherited by their spouse). Only 22% of women on farms inherited by her family saw themselves as a 'farmer's wife', in comparison 70% of women on farms inherited through her husband's family.

Women who inherited farms identified significantly different future ambitions than women who were living or working on farms inherited by their spouse (see Table 9.2). In particular, women born on farms expressed more interest in developing a farm diversification activity (28% in comparison to 21%), and to increasing their involvement in an agricultural organisation (11% versus 3%).

Table 9.2 Ambitions of women on inherited farms

Question "How would you like to be involved in your farm in the next five years?" Women living or working on land inherited through her family. (%) Women living or working on land inherited through her spouse's family (%)
Become involved/increase involvement with an agricultural organisation 11.4 3.0
Gain off-farm employment 3.6 0.7
Join/remain on the board of an agricultural organisation 3.6 6.0
Maintain current on-farm role 50.3 66.4
Start/expand a diversification activity on-farm 28.1 21.6
Other 3.0 2.2

9.3 Concluding Remarks

Access to land is the single biggest barrier women face in farming. Cultural practices which regulate land transfer represent a significant obstacle for women. The way in which farming assets are transferred in Scotland is particularly disadvantageous to women. The norm appears to be that women do not inherit land unless there is no brother. The only route open to women who have brothers who want to enter farming is by becoming a tenant. Ironically, women who are tenant farmers are very dynamic and forward thinking. Women who wished to enter farming then had to face the much higher costs of renting/buying land, when their brother is the heir. There was also some discussion that being the heir may be a barrier for some men who do not want the burden and responsibility of the farm. Questions were raised about how efficiently reluctant heirs undertake farming practice, compared to enthusiastic and innovative new entrants. There is an opportunity to consider how land is transferred to ensure the optimum efficiency of agricultural land use. There is also an opportunity to advance gender equality regarding access to land. Crofts raise particular issues. Only one tenant can be named on a tenanted croft, and it tends to be the man. If a divorce occurs, this can mean that women lose access to the family home. There is an opportunity to develop policy to address this issue.


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