Across the South, demographics are shifting—and not just in urban and suburban areas. Rural parts of the state, where forestry has long dominated and served as a leading source of jobs, is now feeling these changes.
To better understand how an aging population might influence the future of forestry, researchers at the University of Georgia's Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources conducted a survey of private landowners across the state. Based on data from 1,143 responses—the largest survey of family forest landowners in Georgia to date—we can now better define who they are and how they may influence the industry in the future.
One of the most significant changes is the role of women as forest landowners. In the southern United States, the proportion of women as primary decision-makers has risen from 14.5% in 2006 to 27.1% in 2018. This change is due in large part because women often outlive men—widows, often late in life, are becoming the sole property owner after their spouse dies. In other cases, a father has left land to a daughter or other female family member.
Bottom line, as landowners shift, their plans for the land may also change. Understanding what motivates these landowners, says Warnell researcher Puneet Dwivedi, is key to ensuring the future of forestry in Georgia.
"Understanding gender differences between family forest landowners and their management intentions is vital for ensuring future timber supply, conservation efforts, and land transfer in the southern United States, in general, and Georgia in particular," said Dwivedi, who worked with his postdoctoral research associate, Anne Mook, on the survey and ensuing studies.
From their responses, Dwivedi and Mook compiled a series of graphics to illustrate the current demographics—and how things may change between male and female landowners. These charts are available for download here.
"Our infographics summarize the status of family forest landowners in Georgia, specifically focusing upon gender differences," said Dwivedi. "We hope that the insights developed here will feed into policies and programs for encouraging the participation of female family forest landowners in sustainable forestry."
Historically, forestry has been a male-dominated industry. But as the population of landowners ages, more women are assuming the role of decision-maker. Fifteen years ago, 14.5% of women were the primary landowner; today that number is closing in on 20%. When looking at the ages and income levels of forest landowners, it's clear that older women—those age 75 and older—are outliving their male counterparts.
In terms of income, it's clear that male landowners rank in the top income brackets. Most male landowners report incomes of more than $100,000 a year, while women's incomes can range from $25,000 to just under $100,000.
As the previous graphics suggest, women are slowly assuming land ownership. This chart illustrates the income levels of women who have inherited land, and the results of the survey show that this change is not necessarily tied to income level.
These two charts compare the employment status of male and female landowners. Similar to the age information presented earlier, these charts confirm that most landowners are retired from their professions—both male and female. The large number of retired women underscores the greater proportion of female landowners who are older.
About the same number of survey respondents hold at least a high school diploma or an associate's degree. Interestingly, more female landowners hold advanced degrees compared with their male counterparts.
Survey data showed that women were more likely to have more parcels of land compared with men. But, when comparing parcel size, men held more acreage.
As more women become forest landowners, it's important for them to understand the land management options available to them. Earning an income from their property is imperative to keeping forests as forests, and so income-generating hunting leases and timber sales are key. Survey data found women were more likely to pursue income from timber sales (second chart), but are slightly less likely to have income from hunting leases. In the graphs above, the bars show whether or not women or men are pursuing either option.
Survey data reflected the benefit of a higher income: More land. Data found that the higher a respondent's income level, the more acreage they owned. But, as women's incomes tended to lag behind men's, that also meant that they owned fewer acres. These charts show the mean amount of acres owned by family forest landowners at different income levels, as well as the breakdown between female and male landowners. While the gender breakdown is more even at lower income levels, high-income men clearly hold more land.
To help keep forests as forests, it's also important for landowners to have a connection to their land. Survey data found that women and men who owned forestland lived on the property at similar rates. However, these low numbers also reflect a potential for disconnect with the land in future generations.