Off-farm Work among Rural Households: A Case Study in the Brazilian Amazon


  • Leah VanWey received funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH grant R01-HD3581 “Amazonian Deforestation and the Structure of Households.” Trina Vithayathil received funding from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (DGE-0228243). This research was supported in part by the Population Studies and Training Center (PSTC) at Brown University. The PSTC receives core support from Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R24HD041020, T32HD007338). Direct correspondence to Leah VanWey, Brown University, MS 1916, Maxcy Hall, Providence, RI 02912, 401-863-1942. E-mail:


This article analyzes off-farm work among subsistence-level farmers in the Santarém region of the Brazilian Amazon. We build on the literature on rural livelihoods in the Global South by exploring how the opportunity to work off the farm is embedded in social relationships. We additionally differentiate our analysis by type of off-farm work, and examine how other characteristics such as human capital, the available labor supply, and access to infrastructure vary by work outcome. In general, the factors that contribute to more secure, relatively higher-paying work differ from those important in understanding patterns of lower-paying, daily wage work. We find that on-farm social capital, measured as the presence of a co-resident on the property who works off the farm, increases an individual's probability of working off the farm, but has a stronger effect for lower-wage work. We also find that the farm owner's relationship to households on the farm property plays a significant role in predicting patterns of off-farm work. These findings suggest that social capital plays an important role in providing access to employment and therefore to cash income, but that farm-level social capital does not necessarily provide pathways to stable or high-paying jobs outside agriculture.