How do older Australian farming couples construct generativity across the life course?: A narrative exploration Academic Article uri icon


  • Australian farming, predominantly based on a family farming model, reflects a distinct culture and identity within Australia. Generativity can be identified within the longstanding practice of patrilineal generational farm succession. However, the changing social, economic and environmental context facing farmers today, is now threatening the sustainability and viability of the family farming model. The outcome in Australia, as elsewhere, has been a significant decline in the number of farming families and a sharp reduction in the number of young people entering farming. Overall, farmers are increasingly aging on farm in two-person households and without a next generation to follow. In this scenario, the article presents research which aims to explore how older Australian couples construct generativity across their life course. The study draws on constructionist narrative research conducted in the Australian New South Wales Southern Riverina. Generativity, as presented by Erikson (1950) and Kotre (1996), is utilised as a theoretical frame by which to explore the meaning of generational family farming in six couples' stories of navigating later life challenges. Drawing on Gubrium and Holstein's (1998) 'narrative practice' analytic framework, this article examines tensions between couples' jointly constructed narratives and the grand narrative of Australian family farming. A 'narrative practice' approach permits examination of the meaning of experience, coherence, and the ways contexts, as well as stories of the past influence stories told about couples' present and future generative expression. This approach is highly consistent with the rapidly changing farming context where couples may be trying hard to construct a coherent story within a distinct family farming grand narrative under considerable tension. Findings show that in this context, and often in the absence of the next generation, there are visible changes in farming couples' expression of generativity. The grand narrative of Australian family farming is compromised and older farming couples are being pressured to develop a new script for aging. In some cases, this is also causing significant tensions between couples, particularly around individual constructions of retirement. These findings may have some resonance with farming in other western countries, where aging farmers are faced with broad social and economic change.

publication date

  • 2016