What Is A Matrilocal And A Patrilocal Residence?

Indian wedding ceremony in Bundi, Rajasthan, India.  Editorial credit: Svetlana Eremina / Shutterstock.com
Indian wedding ceremony in Bundi, Rajasthan, India. Editorial credit: Svetlana Eremina / Shutterstock.com

Both matrilocal residence and patrilocal residence are terms that are used in social anthropology to describe where married couples settle after marriage. Also known as matrilocality, uxorilocality, or an uxorilocal residence, a matrilocal residence refers to a system where a married couple lives close or together with the parents of the wife. On the other hand, a patrilocal residence, which is also known as a virilocal residence, virilocality, or patrilocality, is when the couple lives close to the parents of the husband. Historically, most of the cultures in the world (about 70%) used to practice patrilocal residence.

Matrilocal Residence

Under this system, couples can also practice a distant marriage where they live in their respective families. The children born of these families are usually raised by the mother’s family, which means the father has little to do in the raising of his children. However, these fathers would have a significant role to play in raising children born by their female siblings and relatives. When it comes to property inheritance, everything passes on to subsequent generations, which means that most of it is not divided.

Most of the places in the world with this kind of structure are those with horticultural societies. Such societies include the Ancient Pueblo Peoples who lived in Chaco Canyon and the Moso of southwestern China. In the case of China, the government encourages this system to create a balance in the ratio between males and females. In ancient Japan, this system was a sign of the authority and power of the woman’s family. If the eldest man of the family was powerful enough, then he could demand that the man make the move.

Patrilocal Residence

This type of society expects the wife to move to the man’s home after marriage. The children that come out of that marriage will also follow the same system where the sons will build houses around the compound while the daughters leave to live with the families of their husbands. The structure of this type of society is usually determined by the age of the men. The eldest men have more authority than their younger counterparts. However, it is possible for this kind of structure to turn into a matrilocal residence in all meaningful ways. For example, if the women in this kind of society have a strong voice in matters to do with leading, then the society effectively changes. However, strictly speaking, it would be a patrilocal residence since the women would have left their homes to join their husbands.

Evidence of this type of society exists in certain languages. For example, some Slavonic languages (such as Polish, Hungarian, and Russian) have evidence of this type of structure based on the words they use for marriage. The case is also true for most European languages such as English.

Archaeological evidence shows that this practice was common among Neanderthal societies. For example, in 2010, archaeologists uncovered a grave that was 49,000 years old at the time. The grave contained three males who were related and three females who were unrelated. Based on that evidence, the researchers concluded that the women must have been the males’ partners.


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