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This lesson will seek to explain the different patterns of residence found across the globe.

In doing this, it will define the neolocal, patrilocal, matrilocal, bilocal, and avunculocal systems of residence.

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Residence Patterns

About two decades ago, my boyfriend asked me to be his fiancé. A few months after that, he became my husband, and we began our lives together in a tiny little apartment above a hair salon on the main street of our town. Due to its location, the apartment was pretty loud and oh so very small.

However, to this day, it’s probably one of my most favorite places I’ve ever lived. I say this not because it was a grand place; it was pretty much the opposite. I say this because it’s where my husband and I began our life together. Speaking very anthropologically, it was where we set up our own neolocal residence, sort of just he and I against the world!Guessing that the term ‘neolocal’ is unfamiliar to most of us, today’s lesson will seek to explain it. Going further, it will also dive into other forms of residence found around the globe, specifically that of matrilocal, patrilocal, bilocal, and avunculocal systems.

Neolocal Residence

Since it’s the one most familiar to those of us with Western minds, we’ll jump right into neolocal.

With ‘neo’ meaning ‘new,’ a neolocal residence system is simply one in which a married couple lives separately from the kin of both spouses. Keeping the home goods section of department stores all over the West booming, it’s when a couple marries then sets up a home of their own.Although neolocal residence is a commonplace thing for many of us, anthropologists assert it definitely isn’t for the rest of the world.

Quite the contrary, they argue that neolocal residence systems are only usually found in industrialized and commercialized societies where individuals trade money for labor, goods, and services. With this transfer of money for labor and such, couples are usually able to be self-sufficient, not usually needing to lean on kin groups or families for their survival. Also, in a more modernized society, couples often need to move in order to find work.

In other words, they go where the money is, and many times, this leads them away from their family groups.

Patrilocal and Matrilocal Residence

Leaving neolocal residence, we now come to patrilocal and matrilocal residence patterns. As you can probably guess from the name, patrilocal residence, as in ‘paternal’ or ‘patriarch,’ is when a married couple lives with or very near to the man’s parents. Whereas a matrilocal residence, as in ‘maternity’ or ‘maternal,’ is when a married couple lives with or very near to the woman’s parents. Interestingly, anthropologists assert that the patrilocal residence is the most common across the world.Now in our Western minds, the addition of the words ‘or very near to’ in the definition of patrilocal and matrilocal might sound a bit confusing due to the fact that many of us who are married still live quite near to our parents.

For instance, I still live only a few miles from my dad. However, this isn’t considered matrilocal for a few reasons.First, in a matrilocal or patrilocal society, the couple’s livelihood is tied to their parents.

For instance, in the case of a hunter and gatherer society, the new couple and their kin group work together to hunt game or gather edible vegetation that is then shared among them. In a matrilocal or patrilocal residence system, the couple’s livelihood is usually tied to either the family of the bride or the groom. For this reason, anthropologists assert that the matrilocal and patrilocal systems are usually found in areas of the world that are less industrialized or commercialized.The second reason that patrilocal and matrilocal residence differs from my neolocal one is because I do not live near my family due to cultural pressure or obligation. In other words, my society doesn’t expect me to live near them.

Yes, I happen to enjoy living near them, but if a job transfer came along, we would most likely move, which many of my siblings have already done. No, my parents wouldn’t be thrilled about it, especially since grandchildren have come along, but in our culture, it’s seen as a normal part of life.However, in a society that practices patrilocal residence, it’s a cultural norm, or standard rule of behavior, that a couple must live with or very near to the man’s family. In the same manner, in a society that practices matrilocal residence, the new couple is expected to live with or very near to the woman’s family.

It’s simply the norm.

Bilocal

With this, we come to our next system of residence, bilocal residence. Bilocal residence is a system of residence in which a couple lives near or with the family of the man or the woman.

Also referred to as ambilocal residence, a bilocal residence system is simply a residence system in which a couple chooses which kin group to be closely tied to through residence. However, unlike our previously mentioned systems, cultural norms do not dictate which one. One sister may choose to marry and stay with her parents, while another sister may choose to marry and stay with her husband’s family.Unlike in patrilocal and matrilocal residence patterns, where norms dictate it must be one or the other, a bilocal system sort of leaves it open for the new couple to decide. With this definition being very similar to patrilocal and matrilocal, we won’t spend much more time on it. However, before we depart from it, it’s important to note that when we use words like, ‘the couple gets to choose,’ we’re not talking about the Westernized idea of deciding whose family you like more.

Instead, choice in a bilocal system is usually made out of necessity. For instance, whose family lives in an area that can support two more mouths, or whose family lives in an area more free from disease or even warfare, can determine a couple’s residence.

Avunculocal

Our last pattern of residence is avunculocal residence. Very, very outside the Western paradigm, this is when the married couple lives with or very near the husband’s mother’s brother.

In other words, the couple lives with one of the uncles of the groom from his mother’s side. Making this rather odd word easier to remember, I try to link the ‘unc’ in it to our word ‘uncle.’Not just rare in the modernized West, avunculocal residence is not really all that common anywhere. In fact, anthropologists assert it’s usually only found in societies which are matrilineal, tracing family kinship only through women. In other words, a matrilineal system is one in which a young child would consider himself part of the family of his mom and not his dad.

To remember matrilineal, I like to think of it as family being traced through the mamas!For this reason, an avunculocal residence pattern would make sense because a young man’s closest male relative, outside his family of origin, would actually be his mom’s brother. In this manner, he and his new bride going to live with his mother’s brother would seek to solidify, or keep intact, the bonds of matrilineal descent.

Lesson Summary

Several different patterns of residence are found around the globe.

Usually found in commercialized and industrialized societies, there is the neolocal residence system, in which a married couple lives separately from the kin of both spouses.Usually found in less modernized cultures, in which people groups need to pool their resources to ensure survival, there are patrilocal and matrilocal residence patterns. With patrilocal being the most common form of residence, it is one in which a married couple lives with or very near to the man’s parents. Conversely, a matrilocal system is one in which a married couple lives with or very near to the woman’s parents. Within each of these societies, it is a cultural norm, or standard rule of behavior, that the new couple will live with either the male or the female’s family.Differing a bit from these two, a bilocal or ambilocal system of residence is one in which a couple lives near or with the family of the man or the woman. In this system, the choice is usually made out of necessity.

For instance, a couple may live with the kin group that offers the greatest resources or protection from things like disease and warfare.Our last pattern of residence is avunculocal, in which a married couple lives with or very near the husband’s mother’s brother. Usually only found in matrilineal societies, or societies that trace kinship only through women, anthropologists assert that the avunculocal system helps to solidify the ties of the matrilineal family.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe the different types of residence patterns around the world
  • Identify the residence pattern most commonly practiced in our culture and the pattern most common in the rest of the world
  • Explain the main differences between patrilocal/matrilocal systems and bilocal systems, and understand what makes these different from neolocal systems
  • Recall another name for bilocal residence
  • Summarize the relationship between avunculocal residence and matrilineal societies

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