UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics

David Just, Cornell University

Historical Succession of Family Farms in the United States

Date and Location

Thursday, October 21, 2021, 4:10 PM - 5:30 PM
Online Meeting, Zoom


Family farms have defined much of the economic, geographic, and social landscape of the United States. Existing studies of farm succession consist primarily of small sample surveys conducted prospectively. We address this substantial gap in the literature by leveraging full-count US census data to observe intergenerational farm transfers occurring between 1900 and 1940, using novel methods of identifying succession. We find that farm inheritance was 20 to 30 percentage points more likely for sons than daughters in the earliest cohort, but less than 20 percentage points more likely in the later cohorts. First sons are 1 to 3 percentage points more likely to inherit the farm in the near term across all cohorts, but this difference disappears by 20 years after entering a cohort. These effects are heterogeneous by time period and by the age gap between fathers and their sons. We observe outcomes for inheriting and non-inheriting children, finding apparent advantages to non-inheritance in terms of education and wage income. Succession leads to minor advantages in non-wage income and homeownership.

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