Matrilocal Residence

Matrilocal residence is instituted by a rule that a woman remains in her mother's household after reaching maturity and brings her husband to live with her family after marriage. Sons, conversely, move out of their natal household after marriage to join their wife's household. It can take on a number of forms, some, but not all of which occur within matrilineal societies. Non-standard cases include socieites with bride service, in which a man moves in with his wife's family but sets up his own household after his obligations are met.

Matrilocal family patterns can be illustrated as follows:

Matrilocal Residence, Stage I

In the initial stages of household development a married daughter (C) brings her husband (G) into her mother's household, while a married son (F) leaves to reside with his wife.

Matrilocal Residence, Stage II

As a new generation is added to the original household, married daughters (D, J, K, and M) continue to reside with their mothers and bring in their husbands. Sons (E,F,N) leave upon marriage. A matrilocal extended family of three generations developes, including common female members of the founder's (A) matrilineage and husbands from a number of different lineages.

Matrilocal Residence, Stage III

Another generation of children increases the membership of the extended family household.

Matrilocal residence operates in matrilineal settings to bring the women of a matrilineage into the same household but disperses the group's men into many different locations. For this reason, alternative residential rules, such as avunculocality or natalocality, are often adopted.

Arrangement of household members
according to gender and matrilineal membership

Residence Form Coresident matrilineal kin
Men Women
Matrilocal X
Avunculocal X
Natalocal X X

In general matrilocality is the most common residence form in matrilineal socieities, although ambiguities in classification are apparent in some case studies. A straightforward form is exemplified by household structure of the Hopi, a matrilineal Pueblo culture in the American Southwest. Interestingly, a second case comes from a European example, that of a working class Cockney neighborhood in East London. Mainly because of a housing shortage, young couples would regularly reside with the wife's parents for several years (Wilmot and Young 1957),. In part this accomodation was a result of economic factors rather than a reflection of a cultural rule or family values. However, it did reflect a closeness of the mother-daughter tie that drew women to choose to remain in their maternal neighborhoods when they eventually set up separate conjugal households. The matrilocal pattern became a basic theme and source of humour in a popular BBC sitcom 'Til Death Do Us Part, the inspiration for the American series, All in the Family.

© Brian Schwimmer, All rights reserved
Department of Anthropology
University of Manitoba
Created 1995
Last updated: October 2003