One of the major choices affecting the financial well-being of farm households is how farm operators and their spouses allocate their labor to farm and off-farm work. On family farms, family members commonly provide most of the labor used on the farm. This varies substantially by farm type. The principal operator and spouse provide the majority of labor used on residence and intermediate farms. In contrast, commercial farms depend most on hired labor. For them, the principal operator and spouse provide only a quarter of the labor used on the farm.
Farming is not the single, nor even primary, career choice for most farm households. Farm operators and their spouses often allocate their time to off-farm work activities, either working for wages/salaries or operating a nonfarm business. Sometimes this activity is where they spend most of their work time, and sometimes it is secondary to their farm work.
A straightforward indicator of how farm operators and spouses allocate their time is what they consider to be their major occupation, or the work activity in which they allocate the majority of their work time. Operators were almost as likely to identify nonfarm work as farming or ranching as their major occupation (see table on the finances and characteristics of principal farm operator households, by major occupation, 2012 ). Some operators indicated that they were not in the workforce; most of these operators also indicated that they considered themselves to be retired. When a spouse is present, the spouses of operators are as likely to work off farm as the principal operator.