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Balancing Life: Women, Family, and Work, in California Agribusiness

  • Author(s): Cantine, Pamela Ann
  • Advisor(s): Palerm, Juan-Vicente
  • Patterson, Thomas C
  • et al.
Abstract

Capitalist agriculture, not family farming has dominated the California agricultural economy throughout its history and unlike the rest of the nation has relied upon the interchangeability of numerous migrant and immigrant groups whose employment opportunities were limited. An examination of the history of California agribusiness highlights four periods in which the labor force is mainly single/unattached males, or family units. This dissertation examines the social and economic consequences of the changing use of labor in California agribusiness and the impact of these changes on women farm workers and their families.

Mexican-origin and Dust Bowl families are the only two family groups who have labored in California agribusiness during the twentieth century. The historical importance of women farm workers has been neglected in the literature of California agriculture, as well as the importance of family and household strategies in the initial incorporation of women into agricultural wage work. I document the contributions of Mexican-origin farm working women within the context of their historical experiences, along with the strategies that they and their families utilized, making the family viable as an important labor unit despite the disruptions and complexities of a pattern of changing labor in California agribusiness. I focus on the role of women in California agribusiness and their importance in the settlement process, family maintenance, and community development. Women enter wage labor out of extreme needs of the family and at times as heads of households, and their income is essential to the survival of the family. Their entry into wage work adds substantially to their workload as they continue their domestic role in addition to their role as wage worker. They and their families acquire substantial benefits from the women’s involvement in community building and networking with institutions that are available to them, particularly if they acquire English as a second language.

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