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How satisfying is agriculture in a ranking of occupations?
The British publication The Guardian ranked 274 occupations in 2014 according to how satisfied job-holders rated their occupations. Clergy rated their work as the most satisfying, followed by chief executives and senior business management officials.
 
Proprietors and managers in agriculture and horticulture ranked third; farmers ranked eighth among the 274 jobs that were analyzed. Company support staff who were office managers and quality assurance personnel ranked fourth and fifth; health care business managers and health care practitioners ranked sixth and seventh, respectively.
 
Clergy in the United States, like British clergy, also rated their work as most satisfying in a 2011 report in Forbes magazine. Clergy have told me their life’s work was meaningful because they helped people at important points in their lives, such as at weddings, funerals, baptisms and when in need of spiritual counseling.
 
Various research reports say financial reward is the main factor leading to job satisfaction for company chief executives and supervisors who enjoy substantially above-average salaries.
 
Office managers and quality assurance personnel experience vicarious satisfaction supporting their upper level supervisors and look to advance themselves into similar positions and reimbursement.
 
It’s also understandable that health care workers ranked highly in career happiness, for they assist people who often are “at their worst” and try to help them feel better.
 
However, why do people connected with agriculture rate their satisfaction highly when agricultural occupations like farming, fishing and forestry are the most dangerous and have the highest rates of occupation-related injuries and fatalities –including suicide – among all occupations, and their financial rewards often are unpredictable?
 
Satisfaction in life is more than about a job. Psychologist Barry Schwartz said in his 2015 book, Why We Work, “almost everyone wants more from work than just a paycheck.”
 
Among several examples he gave was a hospital custodian who said his “official” duties were only one part of his real job. The custodian derived much satisfaction from making “the patients and their families whom he encountered to feel comfortable, to cheer them up when they were down, to encourage and divert them from their pain and their fear and to give them a willing ear if they felt like talking.”
 
In short, this hospital employee and other people who were satisfied in their jobs felt useful to others. Job satisfaction is mostly about performing something beneficial for others.
 
Todd May, noted author and Clemson University professor, wrote recently in the New York Times that “a meaningful life must, in some sense feel worthwhile. The person living the life must be engaged by it.”
 
Agricultural producers feel much-needed. While farmers take great pride in producing food in particular, most people in ancillary occupations also derive satisfaction from helping them. The British publication Farmer’s Weekly in September 2016 indicated that veterinarians, farm business consultants and agricultural researchers routinely viewed their occupational roles as highly satisfying.
 
Occupational satisfaction among farmers in the U.S. apparently isn’t as high as in the United Kingdom and several other countries. A 2016 review of factors that contribute to occupational satisfaction by the Pew Research Foundation indicated that U.S. farmers and agricultural workers ranked in the middle of their extensively surveyed occupational groups.
 
Satisfaction varied according to how likely the surveyed groups were to losing their livelihoods. Not feeling useful was hazardous.
 
This observation is explained by the agrarian imperative theory. This theory, first proposed in 2010 in the Journal of Agromedicine, is gaining acceptance as a plausible explanation for why people engage in agriculture.
 
Farming is more a way of life than an occupation.  The agrarian imperative theory postulates that an inherited drive motivates people in agricultural occupations to acquire and protect the resources needed to farm, such as their farmland, livestock, equipment and facilities. When threats, such as low market prices, disease outbreaks and inclement weather, occur, farmers go to extraordinary lengths to protect their resources.
 
Producing essentials for life provides great purpose and satisfaction. Kirk Kardashian wrote in his 2012 book Milk Money that farmers “are a different breed than people in other lines or work, with
their willingness to do back-breaking labor for modest remuneration, the tenacity with which they cling to their land and their pride in a lifestyle suffused with mud, manure and dramatic uncertainty.”  
 
We need to figure out more fully how life satisfaction is derived from agricultural pursuits. Evidence that is mostly from producer testimonies needs largescale empirical examination. Are agriculture students in graduate school and professors in agriculture and other relevant fields paying attention?
 
Anecdotal reports indicate that children of organic farmers who espouse a sustainable model of farming are more likely to pursue what their parents are engaged in than children of large-scale industrial-model farmers. Let’s figure out if that is true – and if so, why? I have been highly satisfied with life pursuits in farming and psychology; so much more to learn, though.
4/13/2017