Types of Farm Households in the 50s

In the middle of this century, agriculture consisted of a limited number of socio-economic types of farm households. Leaving out some special types that existed in only small numbers as well as the collective organization of farming in socialistic countries, one has to differentiate primarily between three types:

  • large landowners (landlords),
  • small farmers (family farms),
  • marginal farmers.

The landlords as a rule did not cultivate their land themselves; instead, decentralized cultivation carried out by tenants was common. For the landlord, his property was primarily a source of prestige, while production was of lesser importance. The main strategy they employed for achieving a high income was skimming off a high rent rather than increasing the yield. The comparatively stagnant agriculture resulted in a low standard of living for the small share-tenants.

Small farmers had ‘family farms’ on which the family members employed all of their labour and lived off the produce of the land. Cultivation was carried out in accordance with local customs and controlled by the village society. The larger the farm, the more surplus could be sold, but even in this case the requirements of the dependent households and self-sufficiency determined the cropping pattern.

Marginal farm households had too little land at their disposal in relation to their needs and the given soil quality. These households tried to improve their living by at least working partly as labourers on larger farms or in public works. Many tenants belonged to this group.
The decrease in farm size caused by inheritance; population growth and land reforms; the introduction of new technologies in agriculture – leading to a close interweaving of the agricultural sector with others; the creation of employment opportunities through non-agricultural development; increasing migration; the influence of mass media and mobility integrating the rural population into the overall society; all of these factors led to increasing differentiation among the agricultural households. This may have been more marked in one region that in another, but it certainly influenced all countries. Variations had less influence on the emergence of new types that will be described below than the scope of their existence.


next: 5.2 Farm Household Differentiation until the End of the Century