Medical economic vulnerability: a next step in expanding the farm resilience scholarship

Agriculture and Human Values 39 (3):1097-1116 (2022)
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Abstract

In recent years, the long-standing questions of why, how, and which farm families continue farming in the face of ongoing changes have increasingly been studied through the resilience lens. While this body of work is providing updated and novel insights, two limitations, a focus on macro-level challenges faced by the farm operation and a mismatch between the scale of challenges and resilience measures, likely limit our understanding of the factors at play. We use the example of medical economic vulnerability, a micro-level challenge traditionally confined to the household sphere of the agri-family system, as a way to call attention to these limitations. Focusing on United States farm households, we assess: To what extent are they experiencing medical economic vulnerability when using objective and subjective outcome measures? Which demographic and farm characteristics are associated with experiencing medical economic vulnerability? What is the association between institutional arrangements and medical economic vulnerability? Our analysis of over 900 surveys coupled with a conceptual framework merging complementary insights from three bodies of literature revealed seemingly large differences in the prevalence of medical economic vulnerability across the objective and subjective measures with the subjective measure indicating a general sentiment of medical economic vulnerability in a majority of respondents. Conversely, limited variations were noted in who experiences medical vulnerability on the basis of demographic and farm characteristics, with stronger associations being connected to the households’ health insurance arrangements. We conclude with three implications of our findings for the farm resilience literature.

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