What term refers to the kind of descent in which people choose the descent group that they join?

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Kinship refers to the culturally distinct relationships between individuals who are most likely thought of having family ties. Societies use kinship as a basis for forming social groups or for classifying people into roles and categories[24]. In anthropology, kinship includes people who are related by lineage and marriage. In many societies, kinship provides a way for transmitting status and property from one generation to the next. An ethnographic example of kinship would be in today's American culture, where the way in which kinship works can be seen when it comes to inheritance and the wills of the deceased. The closest in kin, such as the spouse or the children, tend to receive the inheritance before other, more distant, relatives do. An example of kinship in the Hindu religion is after the death of a family member, the rest of the family doesn't bath for sometimes ten or eleven days. After that period is up the family then meets for a ceremonial meal and many times will offer gifts to charity.[40]

What term refers to the kind of descent in which people choose the descent group that they join?
Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Family arrangements in the United States have become more diverse with no particular household arrangement representing half of the United States population.[41]

Though most of the residential arrangements consist of simply a nuclear family, it is becoming more and more diverse with adoption, families not willing to put their elders in nursing homes, and unemployment creating tough living situations for some; as kin, it is expected that we are willing to offer help, shelter, and monetary support to those to whom we are related.

The Japanese Family

An ethnographic example of how a "family" is defined is the family structure in contemporary Japan. The contemporary Japanese family is much like that of the contemporary American family, usually consisting of a mother, father, and children living in the same household (nuclear family). Present family forms were developed from the traditional Japanese family, also known as the Ie (家) (pronounced 'e-ay'). This traditional system is unfamiliar to most Americans because it is more complex than what we are used to. The system consists of multigenerational households in which extended families, sometimes all the way up to great grandparents, all live together. The line of descent is patrilinial, or traced through the father. The children are expected to eventually leave the family to join another family and find their own way in the world with regard to a household, career, and the like. Rural families with more than one son typically send their second or third sons into the city to begin finding work in the more contemporary and industrial society. Historically, there was a different social cultural dynamic when it came to family roles. Presently, the family roles are, again, very much like those of the contemporary American family. The father generally goes to a job outside of the home, but there are many family owned businesses in Japan where the family lives in the same building as the location of their business (in this case, there is not such a separation between the father’s home life and work life). Because the father is away for long hours nearly every day of the week at work, this creates Japanese family dynamic: the father has less time to spend with the children. This puts stress on the mother, who oversees children’s education, and manages finances. Because she must be in charge of all of this, and keeping the household in order, the intimate relationship that usually exists between a mother and her children is essentially non-existent; rather, the relationship is very strained.[25]

With all kinship, the behaviors and closeness of relationships, the traditions created within families, the way we refer to our relatives, and the rules of residency all depend on familial descent.

Different Types of Descent

Through these different types of descent, there can also exist , which is the structural process of forgetting while groups of relatives, usually because they're not currently significant in social life.

Unilineal Descent

Unilineal decent groups can be found in many different places around the world. This principle is based on the fact that people believe that they are related to their kin through either their mother OR father, not both. They base this descent of the belief that the parent-child relationships are more important than any other type of relationship.

Unilineal descent groups that are made up of links from the father's side of the family are patrilineal, and descent groups that are made through links on the mother's side are matrilineal. [26]

Patrilineal Descent

What term refers to the kind of descent in which people choose the descent group that they join?
Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): The shield and spear of the Roman god Mars, which is also the alchemical symbol for iron, represents the male sex.

In the patrilineal system the child is linked with the group through male sex links only; the lineage of his/her father. This is found among 44% of all cultures. Within this type of descent it is the men who own the property, have political power, and hold status even though their livelihood depends on the women of their society for children. Daughters are often discriminated against within their own families because any investment made to them by the family will be lost when she is married. In most cases the daughters of a lineage will marry into another lineage and be exchanged for a Bride price. The Nuer are a good example of patrilinear descent: the clans are linked and separated by patrilineal ties which determined their "ancestors and symbols, corporate rights in territory, and common interests in cattle" [27]

Matrilineal Descent

What term refers to the kind of descent in which people choose the descent group that they join?
Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): The hand mirror and comb of the Roman goddess Venus is often used to represent the female sex.

The child of a matrilineal system is linked to the group through the lineage of their mother. This is found among 15% of all cultures. Contrary to Patrilineal descent, Matrilineal descent is not a monarchy. Within this type of descent it is the women who own the property and hold social power however it is men who work with the land by farming or animal husbandry. It is the husbands who marry into the wives lineage and work her land. Matrilineal decent is common within a horticulturally based mode of production and less common within an agriculturally based one; it does not work with increased wealth, differentiation, or inequality. [28] Markumakkathayam is an example of matrilinear descent: "It was one of the few traditional systems that gave women some liberty, and the right to property... the family lived together in a Tharavadu, which comprised a mother, her brothers and younger sisters, and her children. The oldest male member was known as the karanavar and was the head of the household and managed the family estate. Lineage was traced through the mother, and the children "belonged" to the mother's family. All family property was jointly owned. An example is the former princely state of Tiruvitankoor, where the royal lineage passes from the king to his nephew, rather than his son."[29] Two more examples of matrilineal descent are the Hopi tribe in Arizona and the Mosuo ethnic group in the Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces of China. The Mosuo are unique in that they are not only matrilineal but also matriarchal.

Bilineal Descent

Bilineal descent is most familiar to the western cultures. This particular group links individuals with the lineage of both the mother and father (relatives). For example, I would trace my family line on my Father's side of the family, as well as my Mother's, with both having equal importance to myself.

Anthropologists also refer to bilineal descent as bilateral descent, which is the principle that a descent group is formed by people who believe they are related to each other by connections made through their mothers and fathers equally. Another form of bilineal descent is the bilateral kindred. This group is much more common and consists of the relatives of one person or group of siblings and is the kinship group that most European and North Americans are familiar with. This type of group forms around a particular individual and includes all the people linked to that individual through kin of both sexes. These people refer to themselves as relatives to one another. [30]

Ambilineal descent

Individuals are descended from both parents, but are able to choose from which group they would like more affiliation. For example, in Jewish culture, it is said that the children are Jewish if their mother is Jewish; on the other hand, if the father (only) is Jewish, the children can make a choice as to whether or not they want to belong to the Jewish faith as well.

Cognatic descent

A mode of decent calculated from an ancestor, or a system of bilateral kinship where relationships are traced through both a mother and father. Cognatic tribes are found commonly among the Samoans of Central Polynesia. Cognatic descent allows people to be members of both their mother and their father's clan. The difference between cognatic clan and unilineal clan is that in cognatic clans, one can be a part of many clans. In some societies multiple memberships to different clans are possible.

Household Forms

The Definition of a Family

A family is a primary social group, in any society, of which two individuals who wish to share their lives together in a long-term committed relationship, raising offspring. Anthropologists and feminists have debated whether or not an adult male has to be present to be considered a family, this caused anthropologists to come up with different terms to distinguish between these different types of families. A conjugal family is one where a family is based on a marriage, a husband and wife, and their children. In most societies in the conjugal family, the spouse lives in the same dwelling, along with their children, though there are still some where the husband does not live with the wife and kids, but frequently visit them. A non-conjugal family also known as matrifocal family, this consists of just a woman and her children where the husband/father may occasionally be present or completely absent. Non-conjugal families across cultures are usually infrequent, however, in the United States non-conjugal families have become increasingly more frequent.

What term refers to the kind of descent in which people choose the descent group that they join?
Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\)

A study conducted on family discourses in L.A, California and Rome, Italy. The families from L.A appeared to set apart more isolated time with their children, leaving their communities outside. Whereas, the Roman families would tend to include the outside communities in their family bonding time.These two different family discourses could be the result of many years of oral traditions and the different varieties of the communities around them. This example of family discourses can help one to understand the impact the outside communities can have on the relationship between a family.[42]

Having an extended family is also very common in the United States. An extended family refers to a consanguineal family and also kindred who do not belong to the conjugal family. It is also what goes beyond the Nuclear family. Extended family consists of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc. Your extended family may not always live in the same household with you but in many cases visit for many different occasions (family reunions, birthday parties, or simply just to enjoy the company of family). This type of family usually consists of multiple different generations of people. A kindred family is an egocentric network of relatives that extends beyond the domestic group.

Single Person

This household form consists of only one person living by themselves. According to the U.S. census bureau, this is the fastest growing household form since 1980, especially in large cities such as New York City. Despite New York City's massive population, Manhattan has the highest percentage of single-person households out of any place in the world. [31] This is most likely related to paying taxes and the cost of living in expensive cities like these. Marriage, at least in America, is also becoming less and less of a traditional ceremony.


The term nuclear family is used to refer to a family and household setting that consists of a father, a mother, and their children. Nuclear families can be any size as long as the family can support itself and there are only 2 parents. If there is more than 2 parental figures in the family then it goes from being a nuclear family to an extended family. The Nuclear family is a symbol that is deeply rooted into western culture. Historical studies in western family life have shown that this household form has been extremely common as far back as history reaches, especially in the Northwest part of Europe in countries like England, Holland, Northern France, and Belgium. [32]

Recently in the 21st century, gender roles are no longer expected and nuclear families have become less common and single parent families are becoming more frequent.

Extended Polygamous

A Polygamous family is one where there is one father and multiple wives. In this type of family, the first or oldest wife is typically the head of the household when the husband is away. Her children are usually the heirs of the man's wealth. If, however, the first wife dies, then the children must fight the next oldest wife for their right as heirs. An extended family is where there is a nuclear family with added family members such as grandparents or relatives. The Polygamous household form is most preferred by 80-85% of world societies. This type of living situation is most common in places where women do most of the work or there is a shortage of males. [33]


Even though kinship is most often termed as family ties, the view of individualism within a culture affects kinship interactions. Individualism has been perpetuated in American culture as a positive attribute to posses.

What term refers to the kind of descent in which people choose the descent group that they join?
Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Ralph Waldo Emerson

Authors of great works in American culture such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Nathanial Hawthorne, and F. Scott Fitzgerald all in some way or another stressed the importance of individualism, and the importance of retaining one’s own particular identity despite the pressures of society or other people to conform. In a good number of American families it is not uncommon to be separated for most of the day. Children go off to school or daycare while parents go off to work, often for long hours. When they reunite at home, often it is only for a short time to catch up on the day’s news before they all separate to their own parts of the house for their alone time. Alone time is greatly valued as a time to relax from a busy day. Family members might even be in the same room, yet engaging in different activities. Nevertheless, if one asked these people if they loved their family, they would most likely say they did. In other cultures, this long separation between families might sound unloving and very strange. In a culture where there is a collective effort to survive, for example, there is an incentive to work together and never venture off alone. This creates a bond that a family needs each other to survive in more pertinent terms than in American culture. In these kind of cultures and others there is no separation of alone time and family time. A sign of individualism means something different according to different cultures, and is reflected in how people choose to spend their time.

This page titled 10.6: Kinship is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikibooks - Cultural Anthropology (Wikibooks) .

Which term refers to a unilineal descent group based on stipulated descent?

clan = unilineal descent group based on stipulated descent (i.e., clan members say they are descended from a common ancestor)

When descent is based in a single line it is referred to as?

Unilineal descent recognizes only a single line of ancestors through males or females. It occurs in two forms--patrilineal, which follows the male line, and matrilineal, which follows the female line. The patrilineal form is more common.
kinship, System of social organization between people who are or are held to be biologically related or who are given the status of relatives by marriage, adoption, or other ritual.

What does ego stand for in a depiction of a kinship system?

In kinship diagrams, one individual is usually labeled as ego. . This is the person to whom all kinship relationships are referred. In the case below on the right, ego has a brother (Br), sister (Si), father (Fa), and mother (Mo).