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11. Family Systems in Comparative Perspective

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Chapter Summary

The family and marriage are universal social institutions, but their specific form has varied considerably in time and space. Descent groups define who the most important relatives are and the rights and obligations of these relatives toward one another. In patrilineal descent, inheritance passes from fathers to sons. Some societies organize descent matrilineally, or through the mother's line. Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the most polygynous continent in the world. About 99 percent of its societies permit or encourage polygyny. Another common feature of family life in sub-Saharan Africa that is seldom found elsewhere is the residential arrangement between a man and his co-wives. China, one of the two great civilizations of the Asian continent, has been for countless years a strongly patrilineal and patrilocal society. Dowry was common in China, but much more so in families of higher status. Lower-status groups were more likely to pay bridewealth.

Keywords: bridewealth; dowry; family system; patrilineal descent; polygyny; Sub-Saharan Africa



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