clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Where are America's female farmers? Not where the farming is.

Farming is one of the least diverse occupations out there in terms of gender. According to the Labor Department, fewer than one in four farm workersare women. In addition, women only run 14 percent of farms, according to the USDA. Chartmaker Metric Maps also highlights that while women farm operators are everywhere, they have some of the poorest representation in the areas where farming matters most.

The below map shows the percent of farms in any county where women are "principal operators" — that is, where women are in charge of day-to-day operations. (Click through for a larger version.)

Women farmers

(Source: Metric Maps)

Where are women dominating farming? The West, Southwest and the Northeast, and to some extent in Florida. But if you look at any map of where US farmers are located overall they're heavily concentrated (as you might guess) in the upper Midwest — a region that's notably pale on the women-farmers map.

One example of how uneven the spread is: there more farms run by women in Arizona than there are in Iowa, which has more than four times the farms that Arizona has. Women-run farms make up 39 percent of all farms in Arizona (as of 2012), compared to 8 percent in Iowa.

Women are involved in running many of these farms, but it's overwhelmingly as a helper to the men in charge. Two thirds of "secondary operators" are women, most of whom are farmers' wives.

Why aren't women running more farms? A lot of it seems to be cultural. Farming has long been a men's occupation, with today's largely-male farmers encouraging their sons (but not nearly so much their daughters) to get into the business. Women have reported trouble breaking the "grass ceiling," as USA Today put it in 2013. Youth group Future Farmers of America didn't allow girls until 1969.

And the farms that women do run tend to be tiny and have low sales figures. 76 percent make less than $10,000 per year, and 54 percent are smaller than 50 acres.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.