The Return Should Be "None": Farm Occupations in the Census 1850-1940

Matt Nelson, University of Minnesota

Throughout the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries, family members provided the main labor force on farms. Due to how the Census defined occupations in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, family farm labor was likely underreported in the Census, particularly for spouses. Using national level data for the United States from IPUMS-USA, I attempt to correct these figures using a life course perspective of work. I argue that in early family farm life cycles, spousal labor was far more common in farm fieldwork. Once children were born, child labor, particularly sons, substituted spousal labor in what has traditionally been defined as "farm work". I attempt to distinguish housework and farm work to study intra household relationships and dynamics. Instead of focusing on separate spheres of work such as the household and the farm, I focus on task-orientation to explain the work patterns of farmers, spouses, and children.

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 Presented in Session P8. Economy, Labor Force, Education, and Inequality/Gender, Race and Ethnicity