Sociology Index

Matrilineal Descent

Bilineal Descent, Unilineal Descent

In matrilineal descent, descent is traced through mothers rather than through fathers. Matrilineal societies, property is often passed from mothers to daughters and the custom of matrilocal residence may be practiced. Patrilineal Descent is a system in which family descent is reckoned through the blood links of males.

In matrilineal societies, the descendants of men are their sister's children and not their own, who belong to their mother's matrilineage. Matrilineage is sometimes associated with polyandry or group marriage. Ancient societies are known to have recognised matrilineal descent. Matriliny is not the mirror image of patriliny.

Matrilineal societies differ from both patrilineal and bilateral societies in that the institution of marriage tends to be, relatively weak (Schneider and Gough 1961, Goode 1963).

In a gerontocratic matrilineal society, women's influence and prestige tended to increase with age and were usually expressed in informal settings, although there were offices of formalised informality such as mothers of matrilineages.

Matriliny required the subordination of marriage and conjugal duties to loyalty and participation in the descent group. This, combined with economic activities, farming, artisan work, and trading, gave women considerable independence. Women had prestige in the matrilineal home town, where black stools symbolised the seat of power. (Bartle).
In a matrilineal society, women generally have a greater autonomy in terms of sexuality and reproduction than their counterparts in male dominated societies.

The woman in a matrilineal society represents the clan and her children carry on the name of her clan.

Land Inheritance and Schooling in Matrilineal Societies: Evidence from Sumatra - Agnes R. Quisumbing, and Keijiro Otsuka
Abstract: This paper explores statistically the implications of the shift from communal to individualized tenure on the distribution of land and schooling between sons and daughters in matrilineal societies. The inheritance system is evolving from a strictly matrilineal system to a more egalitarian system in which sons and daughters inherit the type of land that is more intensive in their own work effort. In a matrilineal society while gender bias is either non-existent or small in land inheritance, daughters tend to be disadvantaged with respect to schooling.

Gough, K. (1961) The modern disintegration of matrilineal descent groups, in D. M. Schneider and K. Gough (eds.) Matrilineal Kinship, Berkeley.

Oppong, C. (1974) Marriage Among a Matrilineal Elite, Cambridge University Press.