Cultural Anthropology/Marriage, Reproduction and Kinship

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Reproduction and Kinship[edit]

Anthropologists study kinship, or the relationship between people through marriage, family, or other cultural arrangements. Two types of kinship which exist are consanguineal (related by blood) or affianial (related by law/marriage). Other classifications of family include the natal family which is the family into which a person is born and usually raised, and the nuclear family that is formed by a married couple and their children. Nuclear and natal families exist in nearly every society around the world. Through kinship there is a transmission of goods, ideas and behavior. Kinship is defined as a sense of being related to a person or people through descent, sharing of characteristics or marriage, and in the same way that families do, helps to distribute goods, ideas, and behaviors throughout generations.


Sexual Orientation[edit]

Sexual orientation is the pattern of sexual and emotional attraction based on the gender of one's partner. Heterosexuality refers to the emotional and sexual attraction between men and women. In the contemporary American culture, heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation to receive complete social legitimacy. Since June 26 2015, same-sex marriage has been legalized in all 50 States and American territories except American Samoa, and Native American land.[1] [2] Though heterosexuality is viewed as the social "norm" in the United States, many other cultures maintain a very diverse perspective on sexuality and sexual orientation. Various types of sexual orientation are defined below and can be found in many different cultures across the globe.

  • Homosexuality: Being emotionally and sexually attracted to those of the same sex. "Lesbian" is a term used to refer to specifically homosexual women; "Gay" is a term used to refer to both homosexual men and women. It is completely interchangeable with the word "homosexual" but is generally used more casually.
  • Bisexuality: Being attracted to two or more genders. It is a common misconception that bisexual people are attracted to their own and the "opposite" gender, specific preferences vary from person to person and are not limited to cisgendered "men" and "women".[2]
  • Pansexuality: The potential for attraction to people, regardless of their biological sex or gender. This includes a possibility for attraction to those who fall outside the gender binary of male/female.
  • Asexual: One that does not experience sexual attraction. Asexuality exists on a spectrum that varies person-to-person, from individuals who are disgusted by the idea of having sex (called Sex Repulsed) to individuals that can and do feel sexual attraction, but only under specific circumstances (called Demisexuality or Gray-Asexual) and every option in between. [3]
  • Transgender: This is not a sexual orientation, but the state of one's own gender identity not matching the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender people may identify as any sexual orientation listed above as gender identity and sexuality are two separate things.

There is also the term queer, which is a term reclaimed by the LGBT community. Queer is an umbrella term which refers to anyone who identifies outside of the heteronormative society. Questioning is also used to refer to those who are not sure about their sexuality or gender identity, but wish to examine it further. Although these terms are used to describe one’s sexual orientation, they may be offensive depending on the person. One person may identify themselves as queer and have no problem with the term, however, another person may find the term offensive and not identify as queer but instead homosexual. Superscript text

Distinction between Gender and Sex[edit]

Many cultures have a perceived view of gender that is separate from biological sex. This is referred to as someone's Gender Identity and can vary from multiple different types of personal identification. The common distinction that has been established in American culture is that of the differentiation between being Cisgender and Transgender, though there are more than these two identities to consider.

Certain individuals who do not feel the ability to fit within the established identities, who may choose not to see themselves as Male or Female have a differing gender identity referred to as Non-Binary. In a similar vein with the term queer, Non-binary can be used as a blanket term for gender identity that does not conform to concepts of strictly Cisgender or Transgender. This may be represented in portraying behaviors, following expectations and ideas associated with gender identities both attached and viewed as opposite to the biological sex of the individual. This is present in multiple cultures. A notable example can be linked back to the Ancient Egyptians, whose culture had a concept of a third gender identity in their society, even having a deity fitting this definition of a gender identity that is neither male nor female. We can look at gender as a stylization of the body that reflects someone's identity. [4]

This idea of established gender identities is one that is still coming to light in terms of cultural relevance, and American Culture namely is one that is notably hesitant to accept the concept. The general ideology present is that you either fit the box of Male or Female, and not doing so can result in irrational behavior from others, and can lead to aggression in some cases. There is a certain stigma about confusion regarding Sexual and Gender Identities, even to the point where medical professionals have intentionally used surgery to assign someone who was born intersex, meaning they were born with a biological sex that was a mixture between what is perceived as male and female and modified their body to fit into the biological binary. [5]

Asexuality and Acephobia in the United States[edit]

File:Http:// n 3428710.html?1371648467
Sexual and romantic orientation explained by the Huffington Post

As defined above, Asexuality is a term used by people who do not experience sexual attraction. According to research, between 1-4% of the United States population self-identifies as asexual,[3] which is only a slightly lower percentage than the homosexual population; so it's perceived to be much more prevalent.[4][5]

A common misconception in American culture about asexual people is that they cannot get married or have romantic relationships because they do not feel sexual attraction. This is false.[6][7][8] In fact, the vast majority of people who identify as part of the asexuality spectrum date, fall in love, and marry just the same as non-asexuals do. This is because sexual attraction, the desire to have sex with another person, and romantic attraction, the desire to have an emotional or romantic relationship with another person, are different things.[9] How and when a couple has sex is determined by the people in the relationship, regardless of sexual orientation, and this includes relationships in which one or more partner(s) are asexual.

Similar to homophobia, acephobia is the discrimination, hatred, mistreatment, or erasure of asexual people. Acephobia in American culture is most often expressed through microaggressions or identity erasure. Society in the modern United States is very highly sexualized, whether talking about branding, advertisement, or popular culture, there's a huge emphasis on sex and sexuality.[10] Though there are many negative effects of this, acephobia is a direct result. Non-asexual people are not only the statistical majority, they're also the only culturally represented group which leads to a common belief (often proclaimed as "truth") that everyone experiences sex and sexual feelings in the same way. Though the development of that mindset is somewhat explainable, the negative effects it has on asexual people is devastating. Commonly, asexual people are told their identity is "just a phase" that they will "grow out of", or that "plenty of people chose not to have sex". The most major problems with these phrases is that they both erase and invalidate the perfectly valid identity of the asexual individual by implying that asexuality is both a choice and a "phase" when in fact it is neither.[11] These types of acephobia are harmful not just to the individual they are addressing but also to young and future asexuals who will grow up with those prejudices taught as truth and will probably believe they are somehow "broken" as most asexuals do before discovering the asexual community.

Cultural Examples of LGBT Relationships[edit]

2007 Pride parade in Buenos Aires with LGBT visible in a groups' banner (top right of image)

In other parts of the world, some cultures regard various sexual orientations very highly. Transgender people and same-sex relationships are seen in some cultures as acceptable, normal, even preferable and honored.


In many North American indigenous tribes, a person could be two-spirit. They were generally viewed to have two spirits within them: both masculine and feminine. They dress using both the male and female garments and filled an essential and respected role in society. They generally took on this role around puberty. Male-bodied two-spirits could be gravediggers, conductors of rituals, nurses during the war, craftspeople, storytellers, and other roles. Female-bodied two-spirits could be traders, warriors, chiefs, hunters, guides, and other roles. Both could be diviners or medicine people. It was generally accepted that two-spirits had a special power. They could have relationships with people of any sex, and the relationship was viewed more as "hetero-gender" than specifically homosexual or heterosexual. In today's world, the role is being reclaimed by Native Americans who identify as such.

Lesbianism in Mombasa[edit]

Anthropologist Gill Shepherd [12] explored female sexual relationships among Swahili Muslims in Mombasa, Kenya, and found that relationships between females were perfectly acceptable, as were relationships between men. Women are allowed to choose other women as sexual partners after they are married. Many such women also have a husband at home, are widowed, or divorced. Both sexes are open about their homosexual relationships, and it is considered normal. In contrast to some Western cultures, people generally do not think that homosexual relationships would damage a person's piety or moral fiber. Having a woman for a lover is less important than a woman's rank, and her being a good Muslim. A relationship may be set up in a number of ways. A young woman can go around to wealthy lesbian circles in order to find a lover. A wealthy woman may not want her autonomy diminished by a husband and so establishes a relationship with another woman so that she may continue in her independence. A wealthy woman may set up a marriage of convenience with a man for a poorer woman so that when they are divorced soon after the poorer woman will live with her lesbian benefactress. The relationships are not stigmatized and having a lesbian relationship, while less respectable than being married to a man, is nonetheless better than not being married at all. The relationships can or cannot include a sexual relationship, but a sexual relationship is more likely when one woman pays a bride-price and constructs her own compound.

Homosexuality in Nicaragua[edit]

In Nicaragua, the ideal for masculinity is "machismo", and it is described as a man who is dominant, active, and violent. In the U.S., this is often viewed as a man dominating his female partner. However, in Nicaragua, this can also be applied to the sexual relationship between men. It is viewed as normal that men would have a sexual attraction to another, and the act itself is not stigmatized. The "macho" dominates the other man, and he is therefore called a "cochón". This role is made fun of and is typically seen as passive and weak. However, though the cochón is made fun of, he is never attacked for his role.

Ancient Greece[edit]

In Ancient Greece, same-sex relationships between men were considered the highest form of love; they were just as common and accepted as heterosexual relationships in America today. This male-male relationship was based on love and reciprocity and typically called for the older man to initiate the relationship. He would give gifts to the younger man as a promise of love. The relationship between the lover (the older man) and the beloved (the younger boy) was thought to be of the highest form of love [13]. It showed that the men regarded furthering themselves in knowledge and intelligence rather than just a physical connection. Some who did not attempt to make this connection were seen as "shallow." The older man would become the mentor and lover to the younger man, and the two would form a close emotional bond. The youth would be taught his duties as a citizen, and skills to further his place in society by the older man, and once the youth reached adulthood, the sexual relationship between the two men evolved into a very strong friendship. As an adult, the youth would then marry a woman, and initiate a relationship with another adolescent.

An exclusively homosexual relationship was discouraged, however, and not considered a substitute for male-female marriage. Marriage and the children that would be produced within it was required to maintain the family and society. The wives were viewed by their husbands as domestics and child bearers.[6]. While the men were away with their young lovers, women raised children and took care of the household. Women were discouraged from taking lovers outside of the marriage bed.

Alexander the Great.

Examples of this highly regarded male-male relationship can be found all throughout Greek myth and Greek history. One example is the story of Apollo and Hyacinthus; Apollo fell in love with a mortal boy, Hyacinthus, and became a mentor to the youth. He taught Hyacinthus the art of war and sports and visited him often. One story told how Hyacinthus died during a javelin accident, and from his blood the Hyacinth was created. In another version, they were exercising one day throwing around a discus. Apollo threw it and Hyacinthus ran after the discus, but it hit the ground, bounced, and stroked the ground, killing Hyacinthus. He then became a purple flower with AI on the petals. Other Greek gods and Greek heroes have stories attributed to them about their same-sex relationships, Zeus and Hercules among them.

Alexander the Great, the renowned Greek conqueror of Persia, was rumored to have had a homosexual relationship with his close friend Hephaestion.

Ritual Homosexuality of the Sambia[edit]

In 1981, the American anthropologist Gilbert Herdt described the pseudonymous "Sambia" people, a tribe located in Papua New Guinea. They are remarkable for their beliefs about human fertility cycles and the rites of passage they constructed, as a result, .[7]

The Sambia place the onus of reproductive vitality on the male, believing that the baby is formed in the mother's womb by the father's life-giving semen. The child then gets all nourishment from the mother's milk, which causes them to grow and develop in the early stage of life. At the onset of puberty, however, it is believed that to develop any further the child must be reintroduced to the life-giving semen -- the male's analog to milk. However, since they view semen as a highly scarce, albeit necessary resource for development, it must be carefully distributed among their people.

Thus, from ages seven to ten, boys are taken from their mothers and initiated into highly secret and complex ritual associations whereby the boys are taught to fellate older boys and bring them to orgasm, thereby ingesting their life-giving semen. It's thought that by doing this they will develop into strong and reproductively viable human beings. Around the age of 14, the boys switch places and become the fellated, providing the necessary sustenance for the next generation to develop.

Interestingly, the cultural practices of secret initiations diminished across the 1980s and by 1990 the secret initiation rituals were no longer practiced [14].

Homosexuality in Brazil[edit]

As a country, Brazil has been home to probably just as many homosexuals as any other country. What sets them apart, however, is the prominence with which same-sex rights has been fought for in their culture. [15] The first organized homosexual group was called SOMOS, and they formed in 1979. Today there are over 70 groups that are interested in gay rights operating within the country. The São Paulo Gay Pride Parade is also one of the largest in the world, with over 2 million participants a year. Even the Brazilian President Luiz Lula, has been fighting to pass a 'homophobia law' which would count criticizing homosexual behavior as a crime.

Family Rights of LGBT Couples[edit]

There is a lot of debate on whether or not same-sex couples should be allowed to parent children, whether artificially implanted or adopted. This debate has gone on for so long, mainly because many religious groups believe that children benefit the most from being raised by both a mother and father. This may be because they don’t believe in the union of same-sex couples but they also believe that the child will suffer if parented by the same sex. They believe the child will suffer because the child will be either be deprived of a mother or father role model figure. Additionally, they believe that same-sex families create a sterile union rather than a natural family.[16] Many welfare agencies believe that if two people are competent caring adults they should be allowed to adopt regardless of gender. This fact is based on the idea that heterosexual couples often have problems raising children, too. "Research has found no major differences in parenting or child development between families headed by two mothers and other fatherless families".[8]

In March 2016, US District Judge Daniel Jordan ruled that Mississippi's long-held ban on same-sex parents adoption was unconstitutional. He cited the Supreme Court's decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges court case that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in 2015. Mississippi was the last state with such a ban, meaning that it is now legal for gay parents to adopt children in all 50 states. The ban, which simply states "adoption by couples of the same gender is prohibited" had been in place since 2000. Overturning this law was a long overdue change that even the man who signed it into being, Former Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove, believed it should be overturned. He has said that "this decision that all of us made together has made it harder for an untold number of children to grow up healthy and happy in Mississippi -- and that breaks my heart."[17]

Legality of Same-Sex Marriage[edit]

Though same-sex loving people are becoming more accepted in some parts of the world, for most of the world's population it is still illegal for LGBTQ+ people to get married. In some countries, homosexuality is criminalized.

Countries in which same-sex marriage is legal:

  • The Netherlands (2000)
  • Belgium (2003)
  • Canada (2005)
  • Spain (2005)
  • South Africa (2006)
  • Norway (2009)
  • Sweden (2009)
  • Argentina (2010)
  • Iceland (2010)
  • Portugal (2010)
  • Denmark (2012)
  • Brazil (2013)
  • England and Wales (2013)
  • France (2013)
  • New Zealand (2013)
  • Uruguay (2013)
  • Luxembourg (2014)
  • Scotland (2014)
  • Finland (signed in 2015, effective as of 2017)
  • Ireland (2015, first country to make it legal by popular vote)
  • United States of America (2015)[18]
  • Greenland (2016)[19]
  • Colombia (2016)[20]

Obergefell v. Hodges

Obergefell v. Hodges is the supreme court case that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states on June 26, 2015. It was decided by a 5-4 vote with Judges Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy, and Sonia Sotomayer voting for same-sex marriage. Judges Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. [21] LGBTQ+ Americans throughout the country celebrated widely that day. Many buildings including the White House, the Empire State Building, and the Space Needle were lit up in rainbow colors. It was a huge victory for all of the people throughout history who have fought for equal marriage rights and for the millions of gay people in the United States.

How Culture Shapes Gender[edit]

Culture itself can dictate the shape how gender is formed, performed, and maintained. An example of this is an ethnic group in Madagascar called the Vezo. What is unique about their culture is that when a child is born they are not considered human. It is only until the child starts to do or perform can the child acquire personhood, what it means to be human. Throughout the child's life, regardless of having a penis or a vagina (which does not dictate the gender), the child may pick up a gender identity. This is achieved by participating in the community or doing. If the child was to participate in fishing they would be called a man, if they participated in going to the market they would be called a woman. “Vezo identities are non-essentialist and non-primordialist, a person is determined by membership of bounded and divisive descent groups.” - Reflections of sex and gender in Madagascar and beyond (Rita Astuti) The Vezos ideas on gender are: you do, therefore you are.

Sexual Taboo[edit]

Sexual taboos are a wide range of societal norms on what's not acceptable sexual behavior, based on the various cultures, ranging from complete abhorring of sexual relations to very specific taboos such as incest, bestiality, and statutory rape laws, where even the government has stepped in and enforced norms on society.

Incestuous Taboo[edit]

Incest is considered taboo in many western societies, and often cited on the grounds that it can create genetic disorders, via interbreeding. However this isn't entirely true, and is widely circulated to be true (even among scientific communities) because of the strong taboo against incest relationships. [22] There are many cultures where incest via cousin marriage is both accepted and encouraged. Historically speaking, the same western society which now shames incest marriage and sexual relations, has a strong past of of cousin marriage to keep lineages "pure" and preserve royal blood. But, if a genetic mutation occurs within a population, in-breeding will tend to promote that mutation to become more widely distributed.[23]

Sexual taboos are those ideals in a culture that are seen as inappropriate and will mos likely be shunned. There are hundreds for different cultures, from bestiality, to masturbation, to prostitution and more.

= Teacher/Student Relations[edit]

While some may consider this specific level of taboo a fantasy, more and more people are seeing it as sexual harassment. In the last twenty years, the amount of lawsuits and sexual harassment charges have increased substantially, but where is the line? If a female professor has sexual relations with a male student of similar age, is it still inappropriate? Is it in the same level of taboo of a male professor touching a female student less than half his age?


Throughout American history, nudity has become more and more acceptable. Before 1936, it was even illegal for men to be topless in public, although this was quickly changed in the coming years. Nudist colonies are a safe place for people that believe nudity is the key to a healthy life, where they raise their kids to be naked and even attend community events naked. Americans sexualizing the naked body has become a more and more relevant issue in the last hundred years.

Conflicting Views on Sexuality[edit]

Views on sexuality differ from culture to culture. Some cultures embrace sexuality, while others completely avoid it, ranging considerably among industrial nations. A popular example is breastfeeding in public in America, which is generally frowned upon, whereas, in Europe, it is accepted.

File:Breastfeeding within minutes.jpg
In Europe breastfeeding in public is seen as entirely normal, while in the US it is generally looked down upon.

The United States of America has a diverse view on sexuality. Sexuality in all forms like same-sex couples and other issues like breastfeeding and not wearing a bra are a central focus in contemporary society. For people against it, the act of breastfeeding in America is viewed as uncomfortable for the opposing side claims men will be made uncomfortable by seeing breasts and babies together. However, it is scientifically important for new moms to leave their houses in the months following a pregnancy so they have a less chance of suffering postnatal depression. Because of not wanting postnatal depression, many women have no choice but to breastfeed in public.[24]

Breastfeeding is frowned upon for a variety of different reasons. Post World War Two, Pin-up posters, an art form displaying the first instances of overly-sexualized women, became popular and public. Women's breasts are seen as sexual objects of desire and are not supposed to be shown in public. This sexualization created incongruity with the image of a mother healthily feeding her child breast milk. The more sexualized breasts became, the less they were viewed for their function. This kind of attitude results in rude behavior directed at women publicly breastfeeding.

Inis Beag[edit]

Inis Beag was a sexually inexperienced community off the coast of Ireland. In 1960, anthropologists visited this society to collect information on their customs. Inis Beag was considered to be people of the land. They grew potatoes, owned horses, sheep, cattle, and goats. Members of Inis Beag knew practically nothing about sex. Anything sexual was considered a sin except in the case of post-marital reproduction. Children were never allowed to see anyone naked and the genders were usually kept separate. They were sponged-bathed and at an early age only their face, legs, neck, and arms were cleansed. Sex was never discussed so most girls did not know what to do when their first menstrual cycle occurred and they did not know what to expect on their wedding night. Although the men were not experienced either, they learned of intercourse through the teachings of older men and by viewing animals. Nudity was so abhorred that even clothes were not removed during sex. The women were expected to endure intercourse with the largest reluctance and it was considered a mortal sin to enjoy it by having an orgasm.

Trobriand Islands[edit]

A man and a woman engage in intercourse with a cupid like character in the background.
A man and a woman engage in intercourse with a cupid like the character in the background.

Unlike Inis Beag, the inhabitants of Trobriand Islands are very open to sex. These Melanesians live on a group of 22 islands part of Papua New Guinea. Premarital intercourse is universal in their culture and even children as young as three years old are permitted to explore their sexuality. Not much was known about their lives until Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski studied them first hand from 1914-1918 and went on to write Argonauts of the Western Pacific.


Reproduction is the biological process that produces new organisms. Reproduction is a basic function of every organism on Earth and passes on the building blocks of life from one generation to another. Every culture in the world has traditions, rules, and ceremonies which preside around reproduction. These may range from sexual practices of Hawaiian nobility, to the Supreme Court of the United States in legal disputes such as Roe v. Wade. Reproduction is an ever present variable in anthropology and a prevalent force literally shaping the world.

Almost all cultures have norms governing sex and reproduction premarital sex, these range from cultural universals such as the incest taboo to legal concepts such as child support. However even these taboos are not found to be entirely universal. In many early cultures, such as the Hawaiians, royalty could only be passed down to the child of two royal family members, usually a brother and sister. Different cultures each have individual expectations if the women regarding when they begin having children, how many they have, and what age they usually stop having children. For example, women in more male-dominated societies have less or no say in their reproductive processes and health. Reproduction is the biological process by which new individual organisms are produced. Reproduction is a fundamental feature of all known life; each individual organism exists as the result of reproduction. The known methods of reproduction are broadly grouped into two main types: sexual and asexual. In asexual reproduction, an individual can reproduce without involvement with another individual of that species. The division of a bacterial cell into two daughter cells is an example of asexual reproduction. Asexual reproduction is not, however, limited to single-celled organisms. Most plants have the ability to reproduce asexually. However no human has been known to be able to reproduce asexually. Sexual reproduction requires the involvement of two individuals, typically one of each sex.

A pregnant woman nurtures her child in the womb for nine months before giving birth.

Before the 1970s, in China it was very taboo to engage in premarital sex. However, in the 1980s the Chinese government began to make many rules regarding marriage and reproduction. They had a policy that each family was only allowed one child. They also had restrictions on the age people were allowed to get married. Women could not marry until they were 20 and men had to wait until they were 23. Couples also had to receive permission from their workplace before they could be married. These restrictions led to the “engagement” becoming popular in China. The couple would travel to a nearby city to get their engagement photos taken and purchase items for the wedding. The couples would often go alone without parental supervision so they were able to engage in premarital sex.These Chinese couples had little to no idea how sex worked because their parents had not informed them yet; this was usually done right before the son or daughter was about to be married. This led to young couples looking to western porn as a type of "transcript" on how sex worked. This was obviously a big problem and led to more open talk about premarital sex. These practices lead to premarital sex becoming a less taboo subject in China.

Reproduction: An Anthropological Definition & Focus[edit]

According to the Encyclopedia of Anthropology, human reproduction refers to "the process by which new social members are produced- specifically, the physiological process of conception, pregnancy, birth, and child raising". From a larger prospective, reproduction is what allows a whole society continue to thrive into the future and avoid extinction. Political power has come to be the central concern of reproductive studies since those who have power have control control over reproduction of large populations, which ultimately leads to power over the population. This is why, since the 1990's, anthropological studies of reproduction have mainly focused on "new reproductive technologies." These technologies have been designed to help guide human reproduction. Examples of "new reproductive technologies" include intrauterine devices, birth control pills, artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization, and many others which are able to manipulate reproduction.


This infant is having its umbilical cord clamped using sterile procedure, a western biomedical practice that reduces the risk of tetanus infection.

Childbirth methods vary for women in all different cultures. More industrialized societies, such as the United States, create such a big “to-do” when a woman has a baby, as opposed to many other cultures that handle it in a completely different manner. People in Agricultural societies usually handle childbirth with midwives [9], and foraging cultures give birth individually. When an American woman goes into childbirth, she is usually rushed to the hospital by whomever happens to be with her (usually the woman’s spouse). This woman is immediately taken to a sanitary environment where there are generally several people in the room assisting, either the doctor or nurse, and the woman herself. Though in a sterile environment, the newborn infant is not entirely safe from disease. After all, most western cultures consider it normal to give birth in the same building that houses all of society's sick. Western science will occasionally lack the conventional wisdom of other cultures which have experience with giving birth for thousands of years. Complications do happen on a regular basis, but because of the high-tech environments, the complications can usually be resolved. Now if one were to look at a foraging society, such as the Ache from Paraguay, when the women go into labor they simply are taken to more secluded areas. They are meant to squat, proceed to deliver their child by themselves, bite off the umbilical cord, put the newborn to breast, probably clean themselves and their baby, and go back to their people (hopefully to rest). This practice parallels the concept that nature is the Mother in foraging communities. Nature provides a shelter for birthing and is a place where life is given. Although complications are much more common in this situation with risk of infection, of excessive bleeding, and overall lack of medical attention, many cultures use midwives for several different reasons. It is possible for Childbirth to happen in the home and still have medical skill and experience to assist the women. Mothers and their families choose this route either because of religious reasons, cultural purposes, or possibly even lack of financial adequacy to pay hospital bills.[10] In the case of the Orang Lom of Bangka, West Indonesia, women have seemingly similar pregnancies to that of American women, but there is some radical differences between the two cultures. For instance, the Lom women don't necessarily have "restrictions" to their pregnancies but one exception is a prohibition on certain behaviors -- the behavior being that pregnant women are to not sit in doorways. To the Lom culture, sitting in a doorway as a pregnant women is said to cause a prolonged and painful pregnancy. However, once the woman has given birth to their son or daughter, there is an array of rules and regulations that must be followed. Some of the rules include:a period of taboo, or prohibition (pantang) that sets in after birth. This period, called repas (which also means 'brittle', 'fragile') lasts for a duration of 44 to 45 days. It is characterized by the sole seclusion of the new mother in her home, with the addition of daily herbal baths with heated water prepared for her by her husband, sexual abstention, and prohibition against eating certain foods as well as against productive/economic efforts. [11]


This infant is having its umbilical cord clamped using sterile procedure, a western biomedical practice that reduces the risk of tetanus infection.

Childbirth methods vary for women in all different cultures. More industrialized societies, such as the United States, create such a big “to-do” when a woman has a baby, as opposed to many other cultures that handle it in a completely different manner. People in Agricultural societies usually handle childbirth with midwives [12], and foraging cultures give birth individually. When an American woman goes into childbirth, she is usually rushed to the hospital by whomever happens to be with her (usually the woman’s spouse). This woman is immediately taken to a sanitary environment where there are generally several people in the room assisting, either the doctor or nurse, and the woman herself. Though in a sterile environment, the newborn infant is not entirely safe from disease. After all, most western cultures consider it normal to give birth in the same building that houses all of society's sick. Western science will occasionally lack the conventional wisdom of other cultures which have experience with giving birth for thousands of years. Complications do happen on a regular basis, but because of the high-tech environments, the complications can usually be resolved. Now if one were to look at a foraging society, such as the Ache from Paraguay, when the women go into labor they simply stride over to more secluded areas. They are meant to squat, proceed to deliver their child by themselves, bite off the umbilical cord, put the newborn to breast, probably clean themselves and their baby, and go back to their people (hopefully to rest). This practice parallels the concept that nature is the Mother in foraging communities. Nature provides a shelter for birthing and is a place where life is given. Although complications are much more common in this situation with risk of infection, of excessive bleeding, and overall lack of medical attention, many cultures use midwives for several different reasons. It is possible for Childbirth to happen in the home and still have medical skill and experience to assist the women. Mothers and their families choose this route either because of religious reasons, cultural purposes, or possibly even lack of financial adequacy to pay hospital bills.[13]


Abortion is the action of terminating a pregnancy or is the premature exit of products of conception. To do this one must remove the embryo or fetus from a woman's uterus after conception. There are several different ways to perform an abortion. Induced abortions are different from spontaneous abortions (also defined as a miscarriage), because an induced abortion is usually done on purpose, whereas a spontaneous abortion is usually unexpected. There are a variety of ways to perform an induced abortion, some relatively safe and others extremely dangerous. In more developed countries the use of Medical or Surgical abortion is used. Medical abortion is performed with the use of pharmaceutical drugs, which are only useful in the first trimester of a pregnancy. Surgical abortion (also known as a vacuum abortion) is the most common method used. To perform a surgical abortion one removes the fetus or embryo, membranes and placenta using a suction method with a syringe (this is called manual vacuum aspiration or MVA). Another way to perform a surgical abortion is through the use of an electric pump (this is called electric vacuum aspiration or EVA). Surgical abortion is usually performed from the fifteenth week of pregnancy to the twenty-sixth.

There are also other types of abortion that are not preformed medically or surgically. These methods include the use of herbs and special diets as discussed above in the section control of pregnancy. There are also other ways that are not as safe. One method of abortion is attempted from abdomen trauma or putting pressure on the uterus externally. The amount of force upon the abdomen is extreme and does not always succeed in a miscarriage. This form of abortion can result in internal bruising and can be harmful to the mother of the child. The most unsafe methods of abortion are almost always self-induced through the insertion of non-medical tools into the uterus. These tools can include wire clothing hangers or even knitting needles. Self induced abortions are most dangerous because they can result in infection and lacerations of the uterus which could eventually result in death if not properly treated. Overall, the pain of a surgical abortion is between that of a dull toothache and a headache or mild backache.

Abortion in the United States

Abortion in the United States is a very controversial issue. There is quite a bit of political and ethical debate that underlies whether or not it should be legal. In a legal sense in the United States the term abortion refers to induced abortion as opposed to spontaneous, because it is purposeful. The first abortion laws in the U.S. appeared in the 1820s, which outlawed abortions after the fourth month of pregnancy. Eventually by the 1900's most abortions had been deemed illegal and in 1965 all states banned abortions [25]. Currently in the United States abortion is legal but can be restricted by any state to varying degrees, as a result of the highly controversial 1973 case Roe v. Wade case. These restrictions include prohibiting abortion after specific amounts of time during the pregnancy (i.e. after the second trimester), required parent notifications for minors, parental consent for minors, and the permission to perform the abortion after informing the patient of the risks prior to the procedure. Before Roe v. Wade, abortion was illegal in over half of U.S. states and otherwise legal only in the case of rape or to protect a woman’s health. It was legal upon request in four states. In deciding the outcome of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that forbidding abortion except when necessary for a woman’s health was unconstitutional and that the issue of abortion fell under the constitutional right to privacy. Today’s view on whether or not abortion should be legal is largely divided between those who are Pro-Choice and those who are Pro-Life. Opinions are based on religion, gender, political party, region, and can vary depending on specific reasons for a woman having an abortion. In 1969, The Center for Disease Control began documenting legal induced abortions in the U.S. Unmarried women had the highest rate of abortion (82%), 55% were white women, and 51% were 25 years of age and younger. [26] In the U.S. today it can cost between $300 and $600 for the first trimester and $500 to $5000 for the second trimester to perform a surgical abortion.[14][15]In May 2009, one of three late term abortion licensed doctors in the country, Dr. Tiller, was killed by an Pro-Life extremist. According to police reports Tiller's had been the victim of vandalism, shootings and bombings by radical anti-abortion groups. This crime continues to reinforce how the country remains divided on the issue.

In more conservative states such as Texas where there is a greater percentage in fundamentalist voters and lawmakers, a common tactic used against abortion clinics involve the use of excessive regulations. [27]Common tactics include requiring local hospital admitting privileges, meaning that the clinic requires the approval of a doctor in a nearby hospital. The second provision demands that all licensed abortion facilities to meet the same standards as an ambulatory surgical center. The use of said standards aim to induct exorbitantly high cost to maintain and renovate the facilities, resulting in existing clinics to foreclose due to expensive renovations. [28] This form of discrimination can be considered economic discrimination as the methods employed by pro life groups target a specific business/facility and enforce unnecessary levels of medical red tape to discourage the continuation of said facilities through costly expenses.

Other methods that have been proposed by pro life lawmakers has been attempting to prove the existence of "post-abortion syndrome". President Reagan in 1987 urged Surgeon General C. Everett Koop on this matter. This symptom, if proven would have been conclusive proof of women being harmed psychologically from abortions. [29] Despite heavy political pressure, the Surgeon General concluded with his study that the syndrome was a myth. Other studies including a 2012 psychiatric journal detailed flawed methodologies used in other studies meant to prove the existence of a fictional psychological effect. There are other claims that pro life advocates cite such such as abortions reducing the chance of pregnancy in women or women are more likely to contract breast cancer. The medical community have not found substantial evidence to substantiate these ethical concerns.[30]

Abortion in East Africa

Reproductive right is so important in an individual life in and especially to women. “Abortion is a necessity for millions of women worldwide, for their health, for their wellbeing, for their dreams of a better tomorrow.” I was raised in an east African country called Eritrea and abortion is illegal unless it’s medically necessary for the health of the mother. When a young girl unexpectedly gets pregnant, she cannot legally acquire an abortion unless given permission from a medical professional. “The reality is that a woman will seek an abortion—legal or otherwise—almost instinctively and in self-defense.” Rules do not stop these young girls from aborting and they would do it illegally if they really want to get rid of their pregnancy. I have heard of many girls that have died from illegal abortions. Therefore, I think abortion should just be legal even without doctor’s approval because if women don’t want to give birth, they will abort one way or another. (

Abortion in Colombia

Unlike in America, Colombia has much more strict laws regarding abortion. Colombia along with El Salvador and Chile were the 3 countries in Latin America which completely prohibited any kind of abortion by law.

On May 10th 2006, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled abortion legal only when pregnancy endangers the life or health of the mother or results from rape or incest, or if the fetus is unlikely to survive. This ruling caused a large controversy between the Catholic Church and the doctors who perform the surgeries as well as the women who chose to have the abortion.

The United States the right to choose an abortion is based on the women’s right to privacy. In contrast, Colombia’s ruling for abortion is based on the women’s right to heath, life and equality. In Colombia, it is estimated that on average women have more than one illegal abortion throughout their life. [31]

Formula Feeding of Infants[edit]

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends breast milk feeding as the best method for feeding infants, many parents still choose formula as an acceptable alternative. There are several reasons for this. Some medical conditions are best treated with the use of formulas. These include congenital lactase deficiency, galactosemia, atopic disease and milk protein allergies. Another reason people opt for formula feeding over breast feeding is convenience. Working or traveling mothers may find formula feeding an easier alternative over the physical demands of breastfeeding. Obviously, it enables others, besides the mother, to feed the infant. Mothers experiencing postpartum depression may find it difficult to breastfeed their babies and thus they may opt for formula feedings. Some parents choose to give their infants formula in bottles as a method of helping the baby sleep rather than providing it with nutrition. This is not recommended due to risk of suffocation, choking or tooth decay.[32]

There are different types of formula available today. They are classified according to three basic criteria: caloric density, carbohydrate source, and protein composition. Most infants intaking formula need one with iron. For congenital lactase deficiency and galactosemia soy formulas are recommended. Hypoallergenic formulas with hydrolyzed protein is best for infants with atopic disease and milk protein allergies. None of these formulas are effective in the treatment of colic in infants. There are antireflux formulas that decrease the incidence of emesis and regurgitation, but since they do not help growth or development and therefore, are not often recommended.[33]

The American Pediatrics Association does advocate breastfeeding over formula feeding for infants in the first six months of their life if they do not have any of these complicating medical conditions. Breastfeeding provides infants with natural antibodies and is typically more easily digested than formula.[34]

In the early years of the 20th century breastfeeding was the most common form of infant feeding in the United States. But with the advent of better sanitation and refrigeration, milk could be more safely stored. As well, the use of evaporated milk for formula preparation decreased bacterial contamination and curd tension of infant formulas. From 1930 through the 1960s, breast-feeding declined and cow’s milk and formula (called beikost) were introduced into the diet at earlier and earlier ages. Mothers with middle to upper income could afford refrigeration and get pasteurized milk and thus were more inclined, if so desired, to use cow’s milk and formula. Lower income mothers or mothers living in areas without electricity were less inclined to do so. This would include mothers from ghetto areas in large cities and those from remote rural areas.[35]

Formula Feeding in Somalia:

Getting proper nutrition is an ongoing problem in Somalia for many residents there, particularly those in the mid to lower economic bracket. Consequently, plump babies are considered healthy babies. Such mothers in Somalia often supplement breastfeeding of their infants with formula or just switch to total formula feeding to ensure a plump baby. This often starts early in the child’s life as mothers believe that breast milk and its important ingredient, colostrum, are often no good for more than three hours - and thus non nutritional upon birth of the child. For Somali immigrants, many do not have adequate family support to allow for the mother enough rest and are not familiar with pumping and storage as an option to provide breast milk. This is why many of them choose formula feeding for their infants.[36]


Puberty is the onset of sexual maturity in humans that occurs at roughly the same time as the adolescent growth spurt. For most girls, growth spurt starts at age about 10 ½ and sexual maturation begins at about 9 to 11. Typically boys lag behind girls by 2 to 3 years; growth spurt starts at age about 13 and sexual maturation begins at about 11 to 12. The age, at which puberty begins, however, varies due to genetic and environmental factors such as nutritional availability or social circumstances. Puberty is also a transition from childhood to adulthood. For males, puberty is more about entry into masculine social gender roles, whereas for females, it is more biologically focused. In females the reproductive cycle of ovulation and menstruation begins, pubic hair appears, and development of the breasts and other body contours takes place. Physical changes in males include production and discharge of semen, the appearance of facial and body hair, and growth of the larynx and vocal cords that cause a deepening of the voice. In many cultures, this transition is celebrated, seen as a positive and momentous event. In other cultures, it is seen as a negative change, one that presents “risk” of teenage promiscuity and pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, etc..

An ethnographic example of a positive puberty ritual can be found in Navajo culture. When a Navajo girl reaches puberty, she undergoes a four-day ceremony called Kinaalda which signifies her transformation from childhood into womanhood. The ceremony is centered around the Navajo myth of Changing woman [16], the first woman on Earth who was able to bear children. The myth says that Changing Woman performed the first Kinaalda and that the ceremony gave her the ability to have children. Because of this, all Navajo girls must also undergo the ceremony so that they will grow into strong women who can also have children.[17]

A Bar Mitzvah taking place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Likewise, many Hispanic cultures celebrate a woman's coming of age with the Quinceañera(from the Spanish word "quince" meaning 15). When a girl turns 15, it is traditional for her to celebrate both religiously and often socially with friends and family, showing that she has overcome puberty, reached adulthood, and is eligible for marriage, or more commonly today is ready to begin dating. The celebration begins with a Thanksgiving Mass, or "Misa de acción de gracias," which is attended by the close family, godparents, as well as up to seven damas(maids of honor) and 7 chamberlanes (chamberlains). After the mass, many families choose to continue the celebration with an extravagant party, including fancy dresses, food, decorations, and often a live band playing music to dance to. Some girls choose to go on a trip instead of having a party, but still just enjoying time with family and close friends to celebrate the transition from childhood to womanhood. [37]

In Judaism as well there is a transition into adulthood that takes place at the age of thirteen (whether or not this is meant to be synchronized with puberty is unknown to me). For a boy, this is called a Bar Mitzvah and for a girl, it's called a Bat Mitzvah. For the individual, it is one of the most important traditions in Judaism, rivaled only by marriage.

Birthing Practices[edit]

There are 4 main types of birth:

  • Complete birth- entire separation of the infant from the maternal body (after cutting of the umbilical cord)
  • Multiple births- the birth of two or more offspring produced in the same gestation period
  • Post-term birth- birth of an infant at or after 42 completed weeks (294 days) of gestation
  • Premature birth- birth of an infant before 37 completed weeks (259 days) of gestation

The best position for the baby to be born is head first. The head first position poses the least amount of danger for both baby and mother. When a baby is breached (feet or buttocks first) it can cause many complications for both the baby and the mother.

It should also be noted that there are three main methods of giving birth:

1. Vaginal birth- the natural emergence of the baby from the mother's birth canal. This is the most preferred method of birth because of the personal connection the mother feels with her baby. This process starts with the onset of labor which consists of uterine contractions which start the natural “pushing” of the baby down in the vagina for delivery. The natural pushing is the painful part of birth but it can be controlled with breathing exercises. The birthing process is also practiced in many different types of pain management. While pain management is often medical, there are types of natural birth that give women the choice to have a birth in a controlled and comfortable environment without the distraction or stress of the hospital.

Mothers often experience rosy retrospection on the pain experienced during birth in which they don't remember how bad it actually was. This is good in terms of continuing to have a growing population, because without this, mothers may not wish to have more than one child once they experience of childbirth.

  • Types of Natural Birth:
    • HypnoBirthing:

      HypnoBirthing [18] was originally created in the United States by Marie Monogan who is the founder of The HypnoBirthing Institution. The method was created for Marie Monogan's daughter who was interested in having a calm and stress-free birth. After the success of the method, it began to spread. Doctors observed and began to back the practice and lend a hand to its "fertility." Shortly after 1993, the method spread to the UK, Canada, and Australia. Now, hypnobirthing is taught in twenty-two countries and more people are becoming a part of it constantly. It has been recognized on an international level and continues to make an impact on mothers all over the world.

      In hypnobirthing the mother undergoes self-hypnosis as a method of pain control. Hypnosis is defined as a naturally induced state of concentration, a place where mind and body can communicate with the subconscious mind. When in this state, communicating with the subconscious can help to control pain. According to HypnoBirthing of Colorado [19] the state of self-hypnosis while delivering can put the woman in a completely relaxed and daydreamy attitude. The woman, however, will still feel in complete control and be able to sense her surges (also called contractions). In hypnobirthing, one of the goals is to let the body's natural painkillers, endorphins, to take over the pain instead of letting stress enhance pain. HypnoBirthing also can teach you how to work with your body to make giving birth a much calmer experience. Another of its main goals is keeping the mother alert and aware of her body.

  • Advantages of Natural Childbirth through HypnoBirthing:
    • It can help to eliminate fear, tension, and pain before and after birth
    • It can greatly reduce the want and need for chemical painkillers
    • It can shorten the first stage of labor
    • It can get rid of tiredness during birth, giving the mother the energy she needs to have a successful birth
    • It can help to prevent hyperventilation
    • It can promote special bonding for mother, baby, other companions
    • It can lead to shorter postnatal recovery
    • It can help the mother to have a more calm and peaceful experience
    • It allows the birthing companion to take a more prominent role
    • "Water Birth**

Another popular form of natural childbirth is water birth. Water birth is the process of giving birth in a tub of warm water. This can be done at home or in a birthing center but it is usually recommended that a Douala, midwife or medical professional be present. Usually the woman will enter the water after about 5 cm dilated. It is thought that the relaxing environment will help the mother push more effectively and be a pleasant, non-stressful environment for the baby to enter the world into. Water births have been gaining popularity since the 1980's.

There are some possibilities for danger to occur in this situation, such as the baby inhaling water when underwater. Usually this will not occur however, because the baby still receives oxygen through the umbilical cord and breathes in the womb out of instinct. It does not actually take in any air. It is important to be willing to transfer to a hospital in case of a medical emergency if need be.

  • There are 3 phases of vaginal birth:
    • 1st phase: The opening of the cervix or dilation. This is when the doctor will perform internal examinations to check the orientation and health of the baby
    • 2nd phase: The cervix is fully dilated at approximately 10 cm. The mother helps the delivery by pushing. This phase can last up to 2 hours. The baby is delivered at the conclusion of this stage.
    • 3rd phase: Also known as the afterbirth. The placenta is delivered and the mother emotionally connects with her baby.

2. Assisted birth- the use of medical technologies, such as forceps to assist in delivering the baby from the mother's birth canal.

3. Caesarean birth-Is a method that uses a surgical incision made in the mother’s abdomen and uterus for the delivery of an infant. This method is often referred to as a C-Section. Although a vaginal birth is the most preferred, a Caesarean birth may be necessary if there are complications in the pregnancy, for example, if the baby is not receiving enough oxygen (emergency c-section) or if the mother chooses the option (elective c-section). The elective C-Section is performed a week or two before the actual due date. If the expectant mother is HIV-positive and blood tests done near the end of pregnancy show that you have a high viral load, and then a planned c-section would be the recommended birth plan by the doctor. It is equally important to have a planned c-section if the baby is expected to be extremely large and difficult to pass through the vaginal opening, (a condition is known as macrosomia). This is particularly true if the expectant mother is diabetic or has had a previous baby of the same size or smaller who suffered serious trauma during a vaginal birth.[38] Most maternity units in the UK deliver between 10 and 20 percent of babies by Caesarean section. [20]

Multiple Births- If the woman were to have multiple births then it is possible she would have to get a C-Section to prevent permanent damage to herself.

Labor Stops - Over one-third of all C-Sections performed are a result of Labor stopping.

Concern for the Baby - Complications concerning the baby such as the umbilical cord being pinched or the baby not receiving proper blood flow might result in the necessity of a C-Section.

Medical Conditions - Preexisting medical conditions in the mother such as diabetes or high blood pressure may also cause a need for a caesarean section.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases - If the mother has a disease such as HIV, then it is possible for the child to also get the disease as it passes through the vagina. In this case, a C-Section is needed. [21]

Birth in Japanese Culture[edit]

  • In Japan, mothers are encouraged to eat traditional foods that will nourish the mother and baby during the labor. Mochi and eggs are high in protein and carbohydrates which give the Japanese mothers strength and energy in the birthing process. Traditionally, the feelings of pain expressed through noises and verbal expression were considered acceptable but such extreme expressions were considered shameful. Mothers are expected to remain stoic throughout the delivery process. These traditional beliefs are still widely held in Japanese culture concerning birth.
  • Tradition also states that fathers would not be present during the birth. Midwives and female relative were however allowed to be in the room with the mother in labor. [22]

Differences in Birthing Practices[edit]

Foraging Societies:

In many foraging (hunting/gathering) cultures, such as in the Ache tribe, women give birth by themselves. When a woman goes into labor and starts having contractions, she quietly goes off by herself into the forest to deliver her baby. She will squat down, hold her hands out to grab her newborn, and usually, she will bite off the umbilical cord. After that, she will nurse her baby, and return to the village with the child. Without modern medical technologies complications that occur during the delivery often result in maternal death.

Agricultural Societies:

In agricultural societies, midwives usually assist women giving birth. Midwives are specially trained to deliver babies.

A woman giving birth on a birth chair, from a work by Eucharius Rößlin.

Industrial Societies: In many industrial societies, women in labor are given medication to help with the pain. Also, Caesarean births (C-Sections) are common. In parts of the U.S. and Brazil, 50% or more of births are C-Section births.

Causes of Maternal Death:

Indirect Causes: 20%

Severe Bleeding: 24%

Infection: 15%

Unsafe Abortion: 13%

Eclampsia (unstable blood pressure): 12%

Obstructed Labor: 8%

Other Direct Causes: 8%

Cultural Meaning of Birthing Practices[edit]

Birthing practices vary greatly across the world. In several different cultures, such as the Yucatán, Holland, and Sweden, a midwife is enlisted to help in the birthing process. All births in Sweden take place in hospitals with the help of trained midwives. However, in the US, 95% of births take place in a hospital, where the mother and child are treated as patients. This contrasts sharply from the Maasi of Kenya where the "mother gives birth in her own hut, and she remains there until her strength is recovered and she feels well again. During that time she is attended by the women of the village, or kraal. [39]" Countries have also been seeing an increased rate of Caesarian sections performed in recent years. [23] Not only have medical technologies improved to make this practice more safe for the mother and child, but the industrial and post-industrial societies that make up developed countries today require individual participants to schedule everything into exact slots of time. Through this surgery, women are able to schedule the exact moment they give birth and can thus plan their return to society ahead of time.

Nevertheless, the different birthing practices all hold a cultural similarity in that they affect all aspects of social life in a culture. Childbirth affects the mothers because of all the potential differences in the meaning of childbirth and can allow the woman to become closer to herself, her significant other, and her family. In no culture does childbirth go unnoticed, and the different birthing practices help establish the different cultural meanings of the birth.

Child Birth in Kenya[edit]

Many African hospitals are expensive for the average family to afford to deliver their baby with medical attention. A Kenyan woman named Wanjiru shares her story “I remember going to the hospital in 2001. I was in pain, like most of the other women, but we were made to sit on a wooden bench and were not allowed to go into the labour ward without paying.” Because majority African hospitals are so overwhelmed by the number of pregnant woman that need help delivering their baby, they are usually not very polite. Wanjiru was told “You are asked to spread your legs ‘like you did for your husband.” According to a report, Failure to deliver, prepared by the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), there are numerous challenges facing women in Kenya’s health facilities, including suffering abuse and neglect before and during delivery. (


Postpartum is the period of time following childbirth. During this period it is common that young mothers experience what is known as postpartum depression [40]. Symptoms may include excessive mood swings, withdrawal from family, anxiety, etc. Stress caused by a new baby may trigger this.

Similar to birthing practices, there are extensive views and methods on how to approach childcare across cultures.

Postpartum Depression[edit]

Postpartum depression occurs in about 13% of pregnancies within the first 12 weeks and will continue in about 8% of pregnancies. [41]. There are multiple risk factors that will increase a women's chances of having postpartum depression after birth such as; history of anxiety or depression, obstetric and neonatal complications, increased amount of stress, and a small social group of friends. There are many doctors and researchers worldwide conducting studies on how to intervene during the pregnancy and after the pregnancy to see if there are changes.

Asian cultures tend to have higher rates of depression postpartum but in Pakistan and Nepal it's more prevalent and has an increased rate, 28-63% [42]. Researchers believe this has to do with the mother's environment and culture. For instance, there's an increased amount of physiological violence from their male partners, illiteracy of both parents, and serious neonatal complications. All these issues bring lots of stress and low self-esteem on the mother and even baby putting the mother at higher risk for depression postpartum. Women in lower socio-economic areas need more medical and mental health assistance during their pregnancy to ensure mental stability and a safe delivery.

Infant Sleep[edit]

A baby lying in infant bed

Infant sleep norms vary greatly across cultures. Different cultures have different views on what is considered normal for children’s sleep. In the United States it is regarded as normal for infants to sleep in separate rooms from their parents. Technology, such as baby monitors, allow parents to stay connected with their children but still give them the independence our culture believes they need. It is also socially important for babies to sleep all through the night without arousal. Babies with high-fat diets, especially from artificial formula are more likely to sleep soundly through the night than babies that are breast feed.

Although in the United States separate rooms are common for infants, the majority of the world finds it more acceptable for infants to sleep either in bed with parents or in the same room. This is true for countries including Italy, China, and Korea. Most cultures believe that children still need to be close to their parents especially at night while sleeping.

In the Maya civilization, mother-infant co-sleeping is quite normal. Mayan mothers found it horrifying that the western culture finds it normal to separate infants from their parents during sleep. It is considered cruel to them to do that to the infant since they are still so dependent on their parents.

Breast Feeding[edit]

Breast Feeding practices vary between cultures. A child should be breastfed for at least six months and is recommended to be continued until two to four years of age. Breast milk carries many nutritional benefits to the child. Vitamins and antibodies that the mother carries are passed on to the baby to help build the immune system and developing body. Breastfeeding is also critical for mother and child bonding. Hormones are exchanged in the breast milk and well as in the mother to promote nurturing feelings. During the breastfeeding months, lactational amennorrhea occurs which prevents the mother from conceiving again. In some cultures, this is a method for birth control and is classified as natural family planning.

In The United States and other industrial societies, breastfeeding practices may look different from foraging or agricultural societies. A mother may cut her time of breastfeeding short in order to return to a career or job. Many mothers will pump their breast milk to feed the child when she may not be there or is out in public. Using artificial formula is also common, although the baby may suffer nutritionally and socially. In societies, such as The United States, breastfeeding may also be cut short due to a socially constructed attitude of individuals being independent. A mother may be socially ridiculed for breastfeeding her child too long and not promoting them to become nutritionally independent.

A 1999 research project done in Munich, Germany at the Institute for Social Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine did a study on the effects of breastfeeding and its relationship to childhood obesity. This study was comprised of 9,357 German children between the ages of 5 to 6. The study found that children who were breastfed for 3 to 5 months had a 35% reduced risk of being obese upon their entry into school. Breastfeeding has also been linked to an increase in cognitive intelligence. [43]

Reproductive Technologies[edit]

Artificial Insemination[edit]

Artificial insemination (AI) is the deliberate introduction of sperm into a female's uterus,fallopian tubes or cervix for the purpose of achieving a pregnancy through in vivo fertilization by means other than sexual intercourse. [44] The procedure can be used for many kinds of fertility problems. For men, it is often used when men have very low sperm count or have sperm that is not strong enough to swim through the cervix and up into the fallopian tubes. For women, AI is utilized in situations of endometriosis, abnormal reproductive organ and unreceptive cervical mucus. Oftentimes doctors will suggest AI when they are unsure of the reason of a couple's infertility. There are four types of AI including intrauterine Insemination, intrauterine tuboperitoneal insemination, intracervical insemination, intratubal insemination.

Success rates for this procedure vary. In the U.S., success rates of AI are observed at 10 to 15 percent among women aged 41 to 42 and 5 percent in women over 42. [45] Some contributing factors for unsuccessful pregnancies using AI are medical issues of the woman (severe case of endometriosis, severe damage or blockage of fallopian tubes), poor egg or sperm quality and the older age of the woman. [46]

Artificial insemination, coupled with a fertility treatment such as gonadotrophin, renders a greater chance of having twins or triplets. Since the average cost of artificial insemination is from $1500 to $4,000 per pregnancy, it may be more financially beneficial for a couple to have more than one child per procedure.

Faiths that place a strong emphasis on procreation of the family, such as Mormons, may opt for artificial insemination before adoption or AI from an outside sperm donor. In this way, couples increase the chances of carrying on their own lineage. The Mormon church does not approve of single women using AI. It also discourages AI of married women using semen from anyone but their husband. The Church does however, note that children conceived by artificial insemination where the sperm is donated by the husband are sealed in the temple and are considered lineage of the couple. [47]


Surrogacy is another form of reproductive technology that has enhanced reproduction in Western societies. For families that are unable or unwilling to conceive, they can choose surrogacy. Surrogacy is achieved by entering into a legal contract with a willing participate who will carry the baby to full term and deliver it for the family. A medical professional will manufacture a fetus out of the parents' fertilized sperm and egg, and then implant it into the carrier. This process is called In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). The carrier agrees to be paid a certain sum of money as well as typically health care and sometimes rent, groceries and amenities. In the United States, it is typical to pay someone between $100,000 to $150,000 US Dollars.

However, if this is too much money or the family does not want to know the carrier, they can choose to have a surrogate in another country. In India, surrogates are typically paid between $6,000 - $8,000 which is much more than they would be paid working a typical job. They are given a room to sleep in, regular doctors appointments, food and anything they could need. This is often a much better choice for women in India than to work in a factory. They consider their womb to be like a room that they rent out periodically. [48]


Bride and groom posing for a 'wedding kiss' photograph.
A Sikh family during the Batna ceremony, the bride's female kin apply besan to the bride's body while singing traditional songs.

Anthropologists recognize marriage as a way to “describe how different societies organize and understand mating and its consequences”. [24] The Anthropological definition of a prototypical marriage highlights the general expectations and facets that form this social construct. Within various cultures, marriage is symbolically represented through a range of very simple to elaborate weddings. A marriage generally transforms the roles and responsibilities of two individuals within society. For example, an individual’s expectation of personal finance may be transformed to support both himself/herself and their spouse. Marriage also sets the implications of permitted sexual access by setting boundaries for what is acceptable and when it is acceptable. However, these implications are also set based on personal preference as well as cultural norms.

Marriage is also a method in which cultural tradition is passed on to the children of the participants. Although the marriage relationship is a ‘traditional’ means for shaping a child’s standing and position in society, nontraditional roles also serve as a valid means of raising children within a cultural context. Marriage also serves as a means of creating extended families linking the Kin of the individuals.

Monogamy and Polygamy[edit]


Monogamy is the practice of having only one spouse at one time. In some cases, monogamy means having only one spouse for an entire life span. Out of the different types of marriages, monogamy is the only one that is legal in the United States and in most industrial nations. While Polygamy was at one time allowed in Utah because it was part of the traditions of the Fundamentalist Mormons[25] that were settled there, it is now illegal in the United States as a whole. There are several types of monogamy that are practiced throughout the world which include: social, sexual, genetic, martial, and serial monogamy.

  • Social monogamy: Two persons/creatures that live together, have sex with one another, and cooperate in acquiring basic resources such as food, clothes, and money.
  • Sexual monogamy: Two persons/creatures that remain sexually exclusive with one another and have no outside sex partners.
  • Genetic monogamy: Two partners that only have offspring with one another.
  • Marital monogamy: Marriages of only two people.
  • Serial monogamy: A series of relationships. One person has only one partner at a time and then moves on to another partner after severing the relationship with the first.

Although the American definition of monogamy restricts an individual to legally have only a single spouse, he or she can divorce that spouse and remarry as many times as desirable.

Monogamy is seen as the most common type of practice in the United States.

Monogamy is the type of marriage practiced in many Christian countries around the world because Christians share the belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman no matter what. To reference the Bible, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh, Genesis 2:24” Christianity is the dominant religion in the United States and this is one of the reasons why monogamy is largely practiced. “The monogamy idea was not popular in previous generations, not until its strong uprising in the last 150 years or so. Polygamy was still openly practiced in the last generation in non-western countries, and is today still practiced in modern societies, even though not so openly because of the outcry of the Western Feminism movement.” Many countries and cultures around the world are practicing monogamy not only for religious reasons but simply because they chose to. (


The term Polygamy is a Greek word meaning "The practice of multiple Marriage". It is a marriage pattern in which an individual is married to more than one person at a time. One example of a society in which Polygamy was prevalent was the Tiwi. They are a group of hunter-gathers in North Australia. However, the Tiwi have slowly adapted to a monogamous family structure. [49] There are two different types of Polygamy: Polygyny and Polyandry.

Polygyny is the practice of one man having more than one wife or sexual partner at a time. There is a specified difference between having multiple wives and sexual partners and the practice of having a sexual partner outside of the marriage, such as a concubine. Polygyny is the most common form of polygamy. There are religions that have historically allowed polygyny, for instance Mormonism. Polygamy began in this culture when its founder, Joseph Smith, had a revelation from God that some Mormon men would be allowed to take multiple wives. The Mormon religion faced much persecution for practicing polygamy and was outlawed in many areas of the country. Consequently, this forced the religion and its leaders to move. After the death of Smith, the major body of Mormons followed Brigham Young to Utah where they were free to practice polygyny. Eventually, Congress passed laws stating that polygamy was illegal in all U.S. states and territories. Although polygyny and polygamy are illegal in the U.S., some fundamentalists [26] still practice it today, most commonly in highly populated Mormon areas of Missouri and Utah where the state often turns blind eye to marriage practices of the individuals.

Draupadi with her five husbands - the Pandavas. The central figure is Yudhishthira; the two to his left are Bhima and Arjuna . Nakula and Sahadeva, the twins, are to his right. Their wife, at far right, is Draupadi. Deogarh, Dasavatar temple.

Polyandry is the less common of the two forms of Polygamy. Polyandry involves one woman having multiple husbands, within Polyandry there are many variations on the marriage style. One of the more common forms of polyandry is fraternal polyandry; this form has been known to be practiced among groups of Tibet and Nepal and occurs when a group of brothers marries one woman. In this practice the oldest brother usually serves as the groom during the wedding but all brothers are recognized as married through this ceremony and all have sexual access to the woman. All brothers also assume a collective responsibility for the children produced from this marriage. This type of marriage also allows for land holdings in areas with scarce environmental resources to stay concentrated within the family and for the children produced by the woman to have many fathers supporting the family. Like all cultural practices fraternal Polyandry has a specific cultural importance within the communities in which it is practiced. Schultz and Levenda give the example of the Nyinba of Nepal Polyandry is deeply integrated within the social construct and history of their culture. Polyandry has historic significant to the Nyinba as their ancestors, who also practiced it, lead harmonious lives making the present practice logical within their cultural foundation. Fraternal polyandry also holds to an important ideal of kinship through the solidarity it creates among the participating brothers. Polyandry among the Nyinba People also plays a crucial role in the set up of their society as it aids in limiting the number of households within the village, thus concentrating resources and enhancing economic possibility. Another example of polyandry is secondary marriage. This is found only in northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon. In secondary marriage, a woman marries one or more husbands while staying married to all the previous husbands. The woman lives with one husband at a time, but she has all the rights to return to the others. There is no divorce in secondary marriage though, you are married for life, but you can still have different husbands.[27]

Examples of Polygamy[edit]

On the islands of Bathurst and Melville, which are located 100km north of the mainland of Australia, there is a society of former hunter-gatherers. This aboriginal society is called the Tiwi, and they are known for their system of polygamy. In the Tiwi culture, it is believed that a woman needs to be married for her entire life, therefore women are promised to an older man before they are even born. The men of the society do not get married until they are in their thirties and at this point may have had many girls promised to him. Upon reaching adulthood, the woman would go live with her husband and his other wives. Though the Tiwi are known for polygamy, they no longer practice it, Catholic Missionaries put an end to the polygamy and pre-arranged marriages. [28]

Throughout the United States many families practice polygamy even though the United States Supreme Court defined it as a crime in 1878. Some 40,000 people in the US state of Utah live in illegal polygamous families in which a man takes more than one wife. A recent example of polygamy in the U.S. became public knowledge in April 2008 when Yearn for Zion Ranch outside of Eldorado, Texas, belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was discovered. Here 416 children and 139 adult women were removed from the ranch; a teenage girl believing to be pregnant for the second time reported becoming the seventh wife of a 49-year-old man when she turned 15. Many of the girls, some as young as 13, were “spiritually married” to men who claimed several wives.[50] These fundamentalist Mormons have now begun a campaign for a change in the law they regard as discriminatory and unfair. The issue is still a constant debate over the limits of marriage, privacy, religious freedom and unequal treatment under the law. [29] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does not associate itself with 'The Fundamentalists' described in these cases and many feel that they are NOT in any way associated with Mormons.

Serial Monogamy vs. Serial Polygamy[edit]

Monogamy is when a person is committed to only one other person at a time. To be a serial monogamist is a lifestyle consisting of repeated relationships with one partner. More specifically, it’s described as going from being in a sexual relationship with one person to another after ending a relationship with that person.[30] This is an example of modern day dating. Many relationships involve being with one person, and then when that relationship ends, moving on.

Serial monogamy also applies to people who get married and divorced more than once. Conservative Christians sometimes refer to those who frequently get married and divorced as serial polygamists, because they see them as people who have many sexual partners. Anthropologists do not use this term because it’s a series of one person relationships. They aren’t with different people at once.

Polygynous Families[edit]

A Mende woman in the village of Njama in Kailahun District

     Polygynous families are families with husbands who have multiple wives. All of the wives interact with the husband at different times individually and as a whole. The wives also have relationships with one another as individuals and as a group. Whether there is jealousy between co-wives depends on the specific situation, individuals involved, and cultural attitudes toward polygyny. Polygynous families may have children from multiple mothers and the same father. The connection between the children and the true mother and same mother siblings is always different and usually stronger than with the other children. This large family of mothers and children may again lead to jealousy and competition for the husband or father.
     The competition between co-wives usually focused on how many children each wife had and what these children are given in materials and education. The wives are usually ranked higher depending on who married first, and with the addition of the status of the families they came from. The husbands are supposed to avoid showing favoritism, especially when it is out of ranking or anger and jealousy can break out in the family. The rivalries between wives can lead to bitter feuds and divorces. The wives depend on their children to support them after the husband dies, so educated and the passing down of land or cash is crucial. Most husbands can only afford to send one or two children to school, which is why there can be such fierce competition.
     An example of a polygynous family is the Mende of Sierra Leone. The Mende culture is patrilineal, patrilocal, and polygamous. They have multiple wives with multiple children from different wives. The wives are ranked in order or marriage to the husband and from the status of the family in which they first came from. Everyone works as a group and as individuals with the husband, which is also the perfect cooking pot for competition and feuds. The Mende's are a perfect example of polygynous families, but only one of thousands of cultures with such structures.
     Another example are The Nayars, a warrior group of the Malabar coast of India. This tribe had the belief in which the woman was “married” to a man she rarely saw. He received a fee for this and was considered the official “father” of her children. From adolescence, she was free to copulate with several husbands, presented to her by her mother or uncle. Each husband would spend a few days at a time with her and the privilege of hanging his weapons on her door. As wars became less common among the Nayars, they moved toward monogamy.
     Marriage customs among the Nayars have caused much controversy in India among social scientists and jurists. The two kinds of marriage: talikettu kalyanam (tying ceremony); and sambandham (the customary nuptials of a man and a woman). The tali-tying ceremony had to be held before puberty and often the ceremony was held for several girls at the same time to save on expenses. The tali could be tied by a member of a linked lineage, by a member of a higher subcaste of Nayars, by one of the matrilineal Ambilavasi (temple servant) castes, or by a member of royal lineage. By the mid-1950s it became common for girls to have the tali tied by their mothers. This is still controversial to if this was even a ceremonial marriage or just an age-grade ceremony.[31]

Same-Sex Marriage[edit]

New York City Proposition 8 Protest outside LDS temple 20.jpg

In the United States, LGBTQ, (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, and Questioning) individuals have only just begun to be recognized as a legitimate part of society. There is still great prejudice against members of the LGBTQ community, and hate crimes are continuously prevalent. Even though the LGBTQ community has lived under this harassment for so many years they are still making huge strides in the United States to better the lives of everyone who identifies as part of the community. This is usually done through making same-sex marriage legal on the state level. Five states recognize gay marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. Five states also recognize gay partnerships: Connecticut, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Washington has increased the rights provided to domestic partner that include all those for marriages on 16 April 2009. Recently Iowa legalized same-sex marriages at the beginning of April, 2009. [32]For a map with a legend regarding the status of same-sex marriages in the U.S., click here[33]. Although these seem to be huge strides for the United States, many other nations have recognized gay marriage since 2003. Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, and Spain allow gay marriage. The ever spreading institution of clubs that promote equality and awareness, referred to as G.S.A. (Gay-Straight Alliance) in schools is also a large factor in the ever rising awareness and acceptance of the LGBTQ community, and also lends a hand to the acceptance of gay marriage (which is different on the legal level than civil unions) through these groups joining together with communities to petition for change.

Those with politically conservative views are usually much less inclined to support same-sex marriage and may treat LGBT people differently. Growing up in a conservative area I have experienced this. When students at my high school attempted to form a G.S.A. (Gay-Straight Alliance) it was so controversial that it became the first club to ever be voted on. It did not pass.

An example of same sex marriages in another culture is woman marriage among the Nuer in Sudan. In the Nuer culture, a woman can marry another woman, thus becoming the "father" of the children of the "wife". As part of this woman marriage among the Nuer, there is a distinction between the pater and the genitor. The pater is the term given to the woman who takes on the "husband" role. The genitor is a friend, neighbor, or kinsman of the pater who is used to impregnate the wife of the pater, and help around the homestead with certain tasks deemed unfit for women. In order for the marriage to become official, the pater must pay a bridewealth payment to the wife's lineage as would happen if a man were to marry a woman. This bridewealth usually consists of cattle or livestock. Aside from specific tasks given to the genitor, the pater takes on almost all social roles of a man. If wealthy enough, the pater is able to marry as many women as she likes. Furthermore, she is able to collect damage payment if her wives engage in sexual activity without her consent. In addition to this, she receives the bridewealth that would traditionally go toward the husband if one of her daughters is to marry. In addition to this her children refer to her as "father." <ref.> Schultz A. Emily, Lavenda H. Robert. Cultural Anthropology: A Perspective on the Human Condition.

Ghost Marriage[edit]

Ghost marriages take place when a wealthy or influential male member of a village dies without any living children. A woman will then marry his "ghost" at a ceremony, usually with the brother of the deceased as a stand-in. The wife is then said to be married to the ghost of the man, and can then have his children, using the brother to facilitate this. These children, although not biological children to the deceased, serve as heirs to his heritage and can inherit both his property and his status in a society. However, this means that the brother is usually left without any children of his own before he dies, and then he must have his children through a ghost marriage, creating a circle. These practices are most common in Sudan but is also practiced in China, where partnership has great value.In china ghost marriages also mean when a man is married to a deceased female, more likely currently due to the growing shortage of females, so that he maintains his status in this world. This can also help the deceased brides family from feeling the shame of an unwed daughter.

In China a ghost marriage is called Minghun. The practices of a Minghun are conditional to that of the Sudanese ghost marriage. In arranging a ghost marriage in China, families do not use a diviner or priest, but feel the groom is "chosen" for the deceased ghost-bride. A red envelope used for money or gifts are placed in the middle of the street where a stranger will come to pick it up. Meanwhile the family hides nearby. At which time the stranger picks up the envelope the family reveals itself and announces that the stranger is the ghost brides groom.[51]

Among other cultures who practice ghost, marriage is the Nuer of Nigeria. The Nuer believed that a man who died without male heirs would leave an unsatisfied angry spirit behind to trouble his family. A woman would then be chosen to marry a family member of the dead man and the children produced by these two would be thought of as belonging to the man who died.

Levirate Marriages are somewhat similar to ghost marriages. A levirate marriage is when a woman marries one of her husband's brothers after her husband has died. In some cases, this only occurs if the husband died without children. Then, since the woman marries his brother, the family name carries on. These marriages have mostly happened in places in Asia and the Middle East.

Arranged Marriage[edit]

Arranged marriage is a union established by the parents, or other interested parties, often without consent from the couple involved. There are 5 different types or levels of arranged marriages:

  • Forced: Parents dictate whom their children will marry and the children have no say in the matter.
  • Traditional-Limited Traditional-Limited choice type. However, in this level individuals are given slightly more choice and this is therefore seen as more "modern" method.
  • Modern with Courtship: Parents will say whom their child should marry, but the child is allowed a period of courtship to get to know their intended spouse.
  • Introduction Only: Parents only introduce those involved to each other, and do not force their children to marry if they do not want to. This is seen as more of a "nudge" than an arrangement.

An arranged marriage is often seen, not as a bond between a couple, but as a promise/approval of a union between two families. Arranged marriages usually benefit the families more than the couple, as it strengthens economic and social ties between the two. For example, an arranged marriage to a cousin makes sure that wealth and rank stay within the family. [[:Image:]] Parents can make sure that the arranged marriage goes through in several ways. They can not come to a wedding that they do not approve of, they can pay only for the marriage that they want, and in some countries, they can even impose legal sanctions on the undesired marriage.

Arranged marriages tend to last because the people participating enter the marriage with lower expectations and no responsibility. Often the two parties will grow together, and learn to accommodate one another's needs. The responsibility for the happiness of the marriage lies with the parents who put the two together. These marriages also tend to be more functional and stable, and they can be maintained with less effort than traditional Western marriages. This, however, may be due to factors relating to the beliefs and traditions of the cultures in which arranged marriages are more common.

The Unification Church strongly believes in arranged marriages. Reverend Moon started the Unification church in 1954 in Seoul, South Korea. He is believed to be “the one who clarified the Truth.” And he believes that it is his job to unify the world through integrated marriages. This religion is present in over 150 countries and in 1982, 2000 couples in the U.S were married. Reverend Moon had arranged marriages for all of his followers, which he personally picked out. Now that the church has grown immensely, he has passed down the responsibility to the mothers. Many of them have arranged spouses for their daughters by the time they are 13. However, the family waits to set them up until they graduate high school or sometimes college.

Residence Pattern[edit]

A wooden wagon (Doli) in which a bride is taken to her husband's home. Although this is a thing of past now, the administration of Chandigarh depicted this in its annual Chandigarh carnival 2005.

After getting married the couple needs to live somewhere. And where the couple ends up varies, depending on their culture. There are four major residence patterns, Neolocal, Patrilocal, Matrilocal, and Avunculocal.

  1. Neolocal Residence is most common with North American couples. This is where the couple finds their own house, independent from all family members.
  2. Patrilocal Residence is most commonly used with herding and farming societies. It’s where the married couple lives with the husband’s father’s family. By living with the husband’s family, it lets all the men, (the father, brothers, and sons) continue to work together on the land.
  3. Matrilocal Residence is most familiar among horticultural groups. It’s where the couple moves to live where the wife grew up; usually found with matrilineal kinship systems.
  4. Avunculocal Residence is also related in matrilineal societies however in this case the couple moves to live with the husband’s mother’s brother. They live with the most significant man, his uncle, because it’s who they will later inherit everything from.
A Hindu Kush woman in the Northeastern part of India in the Himalayan Region.

There are two other forms of residence, however, they aren't as common. There's Ambilocal residence where the couple lives with one family for awhile and then moves to live with the other spouse's family. Eventually, they have to decide who to live with permanently. And then there's Duolocal residence where lineage membership is so important to both the husband and wife that even though the couple is married they still live apart from one another and with their families.

The division of labor by sex largely determines where a couple resides after marriage. If the male predominates in the division of labor than the couple's residence tends to be an Avunculocal and Patrilocal residence. However, if the females predominate than they tend to live in matrilocal residence. And if neither sex predominates in the division of labor than their residence tends to be more ambilocal or neolocal residence.

In the mountains of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region the domination of society by males is prevalent throughout the region. And because the males dominate in this region, the main pattern of living is Patrilocal Residence. Once couples are married the women are forced to live with the husband and the rest of his family, in unfamiliar surroundings. Marriages are generally arranged by the parents, so the women have to learn to live with strangers, without any family support that she once enjoyed at home.

Marriage and Economic Exchange[edit]

Eating special foods such as cake is a common part of many wedding ceremonies.

Often paired with marriage in many cultures, is a trade of symbolic or economic goods. These types of exchanges can mainly be fit into two distinct camps, dowry and bridewealth.


Dowry is a transfer of wealth, usually flowing from a woman’s parents or family when she is to be married in the form of money, land or other goods. Often, the husband brings various forms of wealth to a newly created household, and a dowry is thought of as the wife’s donation, to the household or the husband. Dowry can also be viewed as an inheritance for the woman, though this is usually in cultures where both men and women are heirs. In other cases, such as in socially stratified societies, a dowry gives a woman the security of knowing that after she is married she can still enjoy her usual lifestyle and in the case of divorce, avoid poverty and discomfort.If the husband and wife are to be divorced, the wife is able to get back the dowry that her parents had given. Usually, a woman with a greater dowry is able to find herself a rich husband, while a woman with a smaller dowry is able to only find herself a poor husband. Dowry is mainly found in Europe and Asia's agricultural communities, but can also be found in Africa. The types of goods that a dowry can consist of vary greatly from society to society, but some specific examples are:

  • A dowry consisting of televisions, refrigerators and air conditioners in contemporary India.
  • The Western-European tradition of a bride’s family paying for the bulk of their daughter's wedding. However, this is a greatly diffused example of dowry.
  • The Rajput tradition of a solely transportable dowry, consisting of jewelry, clothing, money and household goods.

More specifically, in the society of the northern Indian Khalapur Rajputs, how well women marry, and more importantly how they are treated by their husbands family corresponds directly with the size of their dowries. This is because women will normally marry into a higher social ranking. This process forces them to move to their husband's village (Patrilocal Residence), and assume the role of foreigner alongside the family. Prior to the late 1900’s, Rajput wives actions were completely facilitated by their mother-in-laws, who gave them household jobs, oversaw how much time they spend with their husbands, and controlled their dowries- a contradiction to the idea that a dowry is a woman’s inheritance from her parents. In more contemporary India, however, dowries have been banned, though they are still quite regularly used.


Bridewealth is the transfer of symbolic goods from the husband’s family to the bride’s family. This form of economic exchange is most often found in agricultural and pastoral patrilineal societies, though it is not limited those lifestyles. Usually, bridewealth represents some form of compensation to the bride’s family from the husband’s family, for their loss of her labor and ability to bear them children. This is because when a woman marries, she goes to live, produce children, and work with her husband’s family, leaving her own. In many cases, bridewealth also serves to create a positive relationship between the families of the husband and wife. When the wife's family receives the bridewealth, they use the goods they receive for their daughter to find her brother a wife. Some examples of the goods which are exchanged in regards to bridewealth are:

  • A bridewealth consisting of animals, such as cattle or goats, in east and South Africa.
  • A bridewealth of cash in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Different Cultural Reference Rules for Marriage[edit]

Kinship terminologies are shaped by the kind of clan organization found in a society, not by a group's position on evolutionary scale. The term you use to identify someone in relation to you shapes how you should interact with them


Endogamy is the practice of marriage within a specific cultural group or social group based on custom or law. An example of endogamy is the marriage between those who are of the same faith or belief system.

The definition of endogamy is a marriage within a defined social group. Practicing endogamy requires that you reject marrying someone on the basis that they do not fit into your social group whether it is because of religious affiliations, social classes, ethnicities, etc.. Individuals that practice endogamy says that it unifies social groups and encourages bonding. Some say the practice of endogamy allows for cultures to survive and maintain practices and beliefs when they move to an alien area. Yet this very same idea of cultural survival through endogamy may also lead to the extinction of some social groups that refuse to intermarry, leading to a decrease in their population.

One social practice that can identify with endogamy is Jewish marriages. Although not all Jewish people practice endogamy, 47% of Jews in the United States are in intermarriages. Still many orthodox rabbis will not officiate at interfaith marriages because the three major branches of Judaism do not allow, or look down upon, people who want to be in intermarriages. This long-standing belief that intermarriages should not be allowed in Judaism comes from the idea that women are sanctified to their husbands, and this sanction cannot happen if it is not between two Jews. Endogamy is practiced for many reasons, and it is a large part of Jewish culture, but as globalization occurs more and more people are beginning to become part of intermarriages and stopping the practice of endogamy.

Although marriage within one's specific cultural or social group is common throughout various many societies, the presence of incest taboo creates a prohibition on sexual relations between close family members. One proposed reason as to why incest taboo helps prevent incest in so many societies is the proven correlation of an increase in birth defects when the two parents are closely related deters people from procreating with those that have similar genes. The Westermarck Effect also works to combat incest as it causes a natural revulsion toward marriage or sex with close relatives. The Westermarck Effect is also responsible for a revulsion towards people that resemble your close family members, but not those that resemble you.


Exogamy is the practice of marriage outside of a specific cultural group or social group. Exogamy was said to have arisen as a way of avoiding kinship marriage or incest. Examples of exogamy groups include, but are not limited to, people from the immediate family, people whom are considered kin, and those of the same sex. A lot of times exogamy is less likely to occur in places where different races are of higher classes than others are. Such as in South Africa the whites are considered to be of a higher class than the full Africans in the townships, so a parent would be against the exogamy of a white into the African community. Exogamy is often practiced in tribal communities, where a male from one tribe will marry a woman from a tribe outside of his own. Exceptions to exogamy, such as interracial or same-sex marriages can make a person a pariah in their own community.


Hypergamy is the practice of marrying into a social or cultural group that is equal to or higher than the caste that one was born into. Hypergamy deals with women marrying into a higher class. Hypergamy includes but is not limited to marring a person of higher education, financial status, as well as social status. Usually cultures that practice hypergamy have a very strong focus on class and the finances necessary to support a prosperous life. A man with higher earning power can provide better for offspring than a man of lesser status.


Hypogamy is the practice of a man marrying a woman of a higher class or of higher social status than himself. This happens a lot more in countries where women have an equal opportunity to make more money or be better educated than men are. Hypogamy is less commonly found in cultures where women have fewer rights than men. Some examples of this are the Islamic and early American cultures.


Isogamy refers to a biological condition where sex cells, or gametes, are identical to each other. Many fungi and plants have isogamous gametes. In mammals, though, the ovum (female reproductive cell) is larger and looks much different than the sperm cell (male reproductive cell). This is called anisogamy. This may also pertain to same-sex relations since monogamy means having a committed relationship with just one partner at a time. Isogamy could also mean being in a committed relationship with the same sex.


Divorce is a legal process in which a judge legally ends a marriage. The result leaves the two individuals status as “single”. A divorce does not declare a marriage null and void, as in an annulment, but instead states that the marriage was unsuccessful for any of a variety of reasons and declares the two individuals as single. When a divorce takes place there are many things that the judge will have to rule on ranging from the custody of the children to the sharing of property. Western cultures have seen a sharp increase in divorces over the past fifty years. A study by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University found that only 63% of American children grow up with both biological parents. Most cultures make it possible for individuals to terminate a marriage. In some societies the process is longer and harder, while in others it is almost impossible. There are many countries where divorce is illegal and taboo.

Divorce and Children[edit]

There are numerous problems that can arise in a family which can lead to a divorce, one of which is dysfunction. Not only is the dysfunction a part of the cause of divorce but can also be a factor on the adjustment that children go through when a family separates. It is often said that about half of first marriages will be dissolved, however, the number is actually closer to 40-45% and projected to reach 50%, while the divorce rate is typically higher with second and third marriages (around 60-68% and 73% respectively)[52]. Along with that concludes that there will be an estimated half of children will live in a single-parent household, regularly that being with the mother of the child. The many possible reasons behind such a high rate of divorce are the independence of women, declining earnings among men without college degrees, rising expectations for personal fulfillment from marriage, and greater social acceptance of divorce. (Amato R. P, 2000)

When getting divorced, there are many ways parents can help ease their children into their new family situation. Having couples initiate and encourage open discussions with their children, and reassure their support and love for their children can be extremely beneficial in the adjustment of a new divorce. Assure the parties involved that it is not their fault, and making sure continuous contact with the other parent is available. Sometimes allowing the option for counseling can be very important; it allows the child and/or children involved to talk with someone else in a safe space, where they can express their emotions and not feel obligated to take sides with a parent but just allow them to talk open and honest about how they are feeling. If you are looking for a parenting plan this site helps layout required plans of action and helpful tips.

As a child from a divorced marriage too, I know first-hand the challenges and hardships a child can experience with divorced parents. I was 5 years old when my parents got divorced, my sister was 3, and I did not then know what it meant to have divorced parents, but I soon found out. In our society, the woman is assumed to be the primary caretaker of the children, naturally, so my sister and I lived with our mother, while we saw our dad on the weekends and holidays. This arrangement was decided in court, and I know that there are different outcomes, such as the father only seeing the children once a month, or even less, so my sister and I were pretty fortunate. For the next 13 years, I became accustomed to the life of a ‘divorced child’ and hearing my parents discuss which weekend was whose was the norm. Although divorce affects the parents greatly, I truly believe that the kids are affected the most. It’s the kids that have to tell their friends why they can hardly see them on the weekends, because that’s when they get to see their dad, and it’s the kids that have to be separated from their parents and see their parents start families with new people.
I too am a child of a divorced marriage understanding all too well the complications of an "unclean break". My parents divorced when I was four years old, my brother was only two, my parents never made it any unknown fact that they despised one another and often used us children as a medium of communication between each other that made growing up feel like a constant tug a war contest. I wasn't fully aware of how my family was "different" until I started kindergarten. I didn't have any living memory of mom and dad living together. I honestly thought that is how everyone's families functioned and it came as an extreme shock when I discovered that this was far from the case. I came home with a lot of questions and hurt feelings I didn't play house right they said mommies lived with daddies, well mine didn't, why was that? I got two different answers from both my parents each belittling and blaming the other (it was a constant custody battle between my parents until I moved to Washington when I was 18. It wasn't until this year I discovered the truth behind my parent divorce 15 years after I initially asked. I'm almost 21 years old now and it still bothers me that I don't know what it's like to have one mom and one dad, one house, and one family life. When I moved here and lived with my Aunt and my Uncle I found I didn't even know how to live in a "normal" family setting. I used to change houses once a week if one parent upset me I knew that I only had a few days and I'd see the other, I couldn't do that anymore I socially felt cheated and frustrated. I understand how deeply a divorce can affect the parents involved but I agree that it is the kids who suffer the greatest from the division. It's the children who have to cope with the battle line, who are cheated time with one parent for another because of a court order. Who can't have regular social lives because their schedules are double, their time decided between two parties, it's the children who have to witness the beginning of new families for possibly both parents. It's not easy, and if the adults handle it poorly as mine did it feels impossible and you grow up quick, you have too.

While divorce is often looked negatively upon, it sometimes is needed. To force a couple to stay together has the potential to cause more problems than if they were separated. People who have lived through a parent's nasty divorce often see all the negative aspects but it's hard to see from another perspective when there is only anger and fighting around you. My parents only stay together because they can not afford to be separated, my Dad makes the most money. It's awful knowing that they don't love each other anymore, because they used to, and I remember what that was like. They're still married in the legal sense, but they act more like roommates than husband and wife. They're just staying together for the kids.

It is important also, as a child of divorced parents, to acknowledge that what happened between your parents was for the best. This then helps the coping process, whether young or old and can reduce any blame a child feels for their parents. [53]

Divorce in Islam[edit]

Divorce in Shari'a law is often initiated by the wife with a the Khula, the returning or denial of her dowry or the husband simply saying the word "Talaq" three times.[54] Imams often act as marriage counselors to Muslim couples seeking a divorce, their likelihood to recommend divorce is usually based on their particular sect and culture. Divorce in Islam is focused on the reconciliation of the married couple whenever possible.[55]

Before the divorce can be finalized there is a waiting period called the Iddah. The standard period of an Iddah is three of the wife's menstrual cycles, this is to see if there is a child from the marriage. If the woman cannot bear children then the waiting period is three months. During this time the wife may not seek out another marriage. A Muslim male is allowed to change his mind up to three times. The male can divorce his wife three times and each time take her back, but when the third strike is in, the man can no longer have any contact with his ex-wife and she’s prohibited to him.

Divorce/Seperation among the Inuit[edit]

For the northwestern Iniut, all relationships are permanent. A husband and wife can move away from one another, but then they become "separated" not divorced. If they ever reunite, then their marriage is reactivated. If, however, the man and women both get remarried, then the two husbands become "cohusbands" of the wife, the two women would become "cowives," and children from both families would become "cosiblings." This is interesting because in this case, divorces don't sever family ties, they increase them. Therefore the Inuit's relationships are often complicated and intricate[34]

Divorce and The Catholic Church[edit]

Christianity as a general whole frowns upon divorce shading it as very negative. However, toleration among the different Christian domination's differs. The Roman Catholic Church for example expressly forbids divorce for any [(]] consumated marriage defining a couple as wed until the death of one or both of the spouses or unless an annulment is granted. If there is no annulment, then even if separated, they may not remarry and are not considered "single" as defined by the term divorce. The topic of divorce can be found bibliographically in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and the epistles of Paul. Paul addresses this issue forwardly in "his First Epistle to the Corinthians chapter 7: "Let not the wife depart from her husband...let not the husband put away his wife" (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)" and in "his Epistle to the Romans stating:"For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth...So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress" (Romans 7:2-3)". Demonstrating clearly the Roman Catholic view on the topic of divorce and the biblical support in it's standing. {}}

Divorce and American Society[edit]

“If the family is the building block of society, then marriage is the foundation of the family. (Fagan)” Divorce in the US is estimated to, by the National Center for Health Statistics, to occur in 43% of all marriages (Divorce Rates[56]). The effects of so many divorces have tremendous long-term impacts on both the divorcees and any children involved. And divorce will affect not only the current generation but is suggested by mounting social evidence to even affect future generations. This has severe impacts on the society as a whole, with so many divorces occurring. For example, it is estimated that families with children that were not poor before see their income drop by about fifty percent after a divorce; this then affects society as a whole when that family seeks financial assistance from the government. the US government spends $150 billion each year to subsidize and sustain single parent families compared to $150 million spent annually on programs to strengthen marriage. In other words, for every $1000 spent after a divorce only $1 is spent to help families sustain their marriage. In addition many families who experience divorce do not maintain the same religious practices they had while married, this can be for several reasons. However, religious practice of any kind has been linked to better health, longer marriages and a healthier overall family, thus the reduction in practice can worsen the effects of the divorce on the children and parents. Marriage is an important aspect of any society, and the US government should realize this and re-focus spending to help sustain this vital aspect to increase the health of its current people and those to come (Fagan[57]).


Kinship refers to the culturally distinct relationships between individuals who are most likely thought of having family ties. Societies use kinship as a basis for forming social groups or for classifying people into roles and categories[35]. In anthropology, kinship includes people who are related by lineage and marriage. In many societies, kinship provides a way for transmitting status and property from one generation to the next. An ethnographic example of kinship would be in today's American culture, where the way in which kinship works can be seen when it comes to inheritance and the wills of the deceased. The closest in kin, such as the spouse or the children, tend to receive the inheritance before other, more distant, relatives do. An example of kinship in the Hindu religion is after the death of a family member, the rest of the family doesn't bath for sometimes ten or eleven days. After that period is up the family then meets for a ceremonial meal and many times will offer gifts to charity. [58]

Types of Kinship[edit]

There are different ways kinship can be recognized. Affinity is a relationship created by marriage. For example, two close friends could become siblings, through the marriage of their parents. Ambilocal and avunculocal refer to types of residential affinity: where the married couple lives. Ambilocal means the newly married couple lives with the parents of the husband or wife; avunculocal means the couple matrilineal brother of the wife. Bilocal is another residential affinity term referring to the couple alternating between the houses of the parents of the husband and the parents of the wife; patrilocal is when the couple resides in the home of the husband's father, and matrilocal in the wife's mother's home. Finally, uxorilocal refers to living with the wife's kin, and virilocal with the husband's. All of these terms describe the aspect of affinity that creates a new type of kin; by living with the parents or kin of ones husband or wife, it creates a new bond between the spouse and the parents. This is generally a positive experience, though the couples may end up living neolocally, or away from their parents.[36]

Typically, ones kin is thought of as their nuclear family, or the family consisting of a husband, wife, and children (this is sometimes referred to as 'immediate family'). The biological father in this family is the genitor, and the mother the genetrix; usually, a nuclear family consists of those who are related biologically, or consanguine. This belief of ones nuclear family being their kin is due to the fact that there is a more intimate and comfortable environment among those with whom one lives. One develops habits and ways of acting that they would only exhibit in their home environment--eating habits, clothing, diction, etc. Within this environment, however, the relationships formed also form the general habits and behaviors of the individual. The family creates expectations for the way the individuals act toward their 'extended family'--aunts, uncles, grandparents--who are also members of their kin.

Family arrangements in the United States have become more diverse with no particular household arrangement representing half of the United States population.[59]

Though most of the residential arrangements consist of simply a nuclear family, it is becoming more and more diverse with adoption, families not willing to put their elders in nursing homes, and unemployment creating tough living situations for some; as kin, it is expected that we are willing to offer help, shelter, and monetary support to those to whom we are related.

The Japanese Family[edit]

An ethnographic example of how a "family" is defined is the family structure in contemporary Japan. The contemporary Japanese family is much like that of the contemporary American family, usually consisting of a mother, father, and children living in the same household (nuclear family). Present family forms were developed from the traditional Japanese family, also known as the Ie (家) (pronounced 'e-ay'). This traditional system is unfamiliar to most Americans because it is more complex than what we are used to. The system consists of multigenerational households in which extended families, sometimes all the way up to great grandparents, all live together. The line of descent is patrilinial, or traced through the father. The children are expected to eventually leave the family to join another family and find their own way in the world with regard to a household, career, and the like. Rural families with more than one son typically send their second or third sons into the city to begin finding work in the more contemporary and industrial society.

However, the concept of primogeniture is a distinct aspect of the Japanese kinship system, but not unique to just Japan. Primogeniture is passing the entire estate of the family, social role, financial assets, occupation from father to usually the eldest son. This way, the family name and social status is passed patrilineally, as it is traditionally, and kept for the coming generations.

Historically, there was a different social cultural dynamic when it came to family roles. Presently, the family roles are, again, very much like those of the contemporary American family. The father generally goes to a job outside of the home, but there are many family owned businesses in Japan where family lives in the same building as the location of their business (in this case, there is not such a separation between the father’s home life and work life). Because the father is away for long hours nearly every day of the week at work, this creates Japanese family dynamic: the father has less time to spend with the children. This puts stress on the mother, who oversees children’s education, and manages finances. Because she must be in charge of all of this, and keeping the household in order, the intimate relationship that usually exists between a mother and her children is essentially non-existent; rather, the relationship is very strained.[37]

With all kinship, the behaviors and closeness of relationships, the traditions created within families, the way we refer to our relatives, and the rules of residency all depend on familial descent.

Different Types of Descent[edit]

Through these different types of descent, there can also exist Genealogical Amnesia, which is the structural process of forgetting while groups of relatives, usually because they're not currently significant in social life.

Unilineal Descent
Unilineal decent groups can be found in many different places around the world. This principle is based on the fact that people believe that they are related to their kin through either their mother OR father, not both. They base this descent of the belief that the parent-child relationships are more important than any other type of relationship.

Unilineal descent groups that are made up of links from the father's side of the family are patrilineal, and descent groups that are made through links on the mother's side are matrilineal. [38]

Patrilineal Descent
The shield and spear of the Roman god Mars, which is also the alchemical symbol for iron, represents the male sex.male symbol
In the patrilineal system the child is linked with the group through male sex links only; the lineage of his/her father. This is found among 44% of all cultures. Within this type of descent it is the men who own the property, have political power, and hold status even though their livelihood depends on the women of their society for children. Daughters are often discriminated against within their own families because any investment made to them by the family will be lost when she is married. In most cases the daughters of a lineage will marry into another lineage and be exchanged for a Bride price. The Nuer are a good example of patrilinear descent: the clans are linked and separated by patrilineal ties which determined their "ancestors and symbols, corporate rights in territory, and common interests in cattle" [39]
The hand mirror and comb of the Roman goddess Venus is often used to represent the female sex.female symbol

Matrilineal Descent
The child of a matrilineal system is linked to the group through the lineage of their mother. This is found among 15% of all cultures. Contrary to Patrilineal descent, Matrilineal descent is not a monarchy. Within this type of descent it is the women who own the property and hold social power however it is men who work with the land by farming or animal husbandry. It is the husbands who marry into the wives lineage and work her land. Matrilineal decent is common within a horticulturally based mode of production and less common within an agriculturally based one; it does not work with increased wealth, differentiation, or inequality. [40] Markumakkathayam is an example of matrilinear descent: "It was one of the few traditional systems that gave women some liberty, and the right to property... the family lived together in a Tharavadu, which comprised a mother, her brothers and younger sisters, and her children. The oldest male member was known as the karanavar and was the head of the household and managed the family estate. Lineage was traced through the mother, and the children "belonged" to the mother's family. All family property was jointly owned. An example is the former princely state of Tiruvitankoor, where the royal lineage passes from the king to his nephew, rather than his son."[41]

Bilineal Descent
Bilineal descent is most familiar to the western cultures. This particular group links individuals with the lineage of both the mother and father (relatives). For example, I would trace my family line on my Father's side of the family, as well as my Mother's, with both having equal importance to myself.

Anthropologists also refer to bilineal descent as bilateral descent, which is the principle that a descent group is formed by people who believe they are related to each other by connections made through their mothers and fathers equally. Another form of bilineal descent is the bilateral kindred. This group is much more common and consists of the relatives of one person or group of siblings and is the kinship group that most European and North Americans are familiar with. This type of group forms around a particular individual and includes all the people linked to that individual through kin of both sexes. These people refer to themselves as relatives to one another. [42]

Ambilineal descent
Individuals are descended from both parents, but are able to choose from which group they would like more affiliation. For example, in Jewish culture, it is said that the children are Jewish if their mother is Jewish; on the other hand, if the father (only) is Jewish, the children can make a choice as to whether or not they want to belong to the Jewish faith as well.
Household Forms[edit]

The Definition of a Family[edit]

A family is a primary social group, a small community, in any society, typically consisting of a man and a woman, or any two individuals who wish to share their lives together in a long-term committed relationship with one another, raising offspring and usually resides in the same dwelling. However, anthropologist and feminist have debated whether or not an adult male has to be presence to be considered a family. Because of this anthropologist have come up with different terms to distinguish between these different types of families. A conjugal family is one where a family is based on a marriage, a husband and wife, and their children. In most societies in the conjugal family, the spouse lives in the same dwelling, along with their children, though there are still some where the husband does not live with the wife and kids, but frequently visit them. A non-conjugal family also known as matrifocal family consists of just a woman and her children where the husband/father may be occasionally present or even completely absent. From my own experience with single woman I have observed that the woman in this particular example of a family is to focus on her children and making their lives as easy as possible. I have also experience this, for my mother raised my two older brothers and three older sisters all by herself and has always put us first trying to give us the best live possible. When a woman is left with minimal resources, in most cases, these resources are spent on the children. Non conjugal families cross culturally are usually infrequent, however, in the United States non-conjugal families have become increasingly more frequent. Family is the main building block of a community or any given society and it is where one develops values and traits necessary to live an honorable life.

Families in the West

Family trip to Oregon.jpg

Families in the west are commonly referred to as nuclear families, to refer to a conjugal family, with the only difference being nuclear families having relatively close ties with the kindred's. A study was done on the family discourses in L.A, California and Rome, Italy. The families from L.A seemed to set apart time for isolated time with their children, leaving their communities outside. However, the Roman families tend to include the outside communities in their family bonding time.These two different family discourses could be the result of many years of oral traditions and the different varieties of the communities around them. This example of family discourses can help one to understand the impact the outside communities can have on the relationship between a family. [60]. Having an extended family is also very common in the United States. An extended family refers to a consanguinal family and also kindred who do not belong to the conjugal family. A kindred family is an egocentric network of relatives that extends beyond the domestic group. Therefore, an extended family are people such as grandparents, great aunts/uncles, 2nd&3rd cousins etc. In the early 16th and 17th century, a family consisted between a man and a woman, with strictly-defined gender roles. The man typically was the support and brought in the income while the woman was to take care of family and home matters. Now in the 21st century, gender roles are no longer expected and nuclear families have become less common and single parent families are becoming more frequent. Size has also changed over the years. It was very common to have large families back in the day. Many religions encouraged many children resulting in large families. Now days, increases and knowledge about family planning, concerns of over population as well as the economic downfall have decreased the size of families.

Single Parent[edit]

In the single parent household form, there is only one parent caring for the children of the house without the help of the other parent in the home setting. This single parent style of parenting can happen as a result of a several reasons. In many instances, single parenthood happens by choice of the parents. Two parents can choose to divorce, or a single person can choose to adopt a child, or use artificial insemination. Women can also choose to be surrogate mothers or have an extramarital pregnancy. Single parenting can also happen by the death of a parent or abandonment by one of the parents. According to a Census done in 2007 by the U.S. Census Bureau, about 9%, (12.9 million) of families in the U.S. are run by single parents. 10.4 million of those families are run by single mothers and 2.9 million are single-father families. [43]

Single Person[edit]

This household form consists of only one person living by themselves. According to the U.S. census bureau, this is the fastest growing household form since 1980, especially in large cities such as New York City. Despite New York City's massive population, Manhattan has the highest percentage of single-person households out of any place in the world. [44]


The term nuclear family is used to refer to a family and household setting that consists of a father, a mother, and their children. Nuclear families can be any size as long as long as the family can support itself and there are only 2 parents. If there is more than 2 parental figures in the family then it goes from being a nuclear family to an extended family [45] The Nuclear family is a symbol that is deeply rooted into western culture. Historical studies in western family life have shown that this household form has been extremely common as far back as history reaches, especially in the Northwest part of Europe in countries like England, Holland, Northern France, and Belgium. [46]

Extended Polygamous[edit]

A Polygamous family is one where there is one father and multiple wives. In this type of family, the first or oldest wife is typically the head of the household when the husband is away. Her children are usually the heirs of the man's wealth. If, however, the first wife dies, then the children must fight the next oldest wife for their right as heirs. An extended family is where there is a nuclear family with added family members such as grandparents or relatives. The Polygamous household form is most preferred by 80-85% of world societies. This type of living situation is most common in places where women do most of the work or there is a shortage of males. [47]

Divorce and Remarriage[edit]

Divorceand remarriage is becoming more common in today’s societies around the world. Divorce is the separation of a married couple allowing them to become remarried to someone else. The process of divorce can be long and difficult depending on the society. Another complication can be added in societies that involve bridewealth. This happens when a man who divorces his wife expects some of the bridewealth back causing a whole clan of marriages to be possibly broken up. In other societies it is easier to acquire a divorce. Depending on the culture, quarreling, cruelty, or adultery may be cited the cause for a divorce. Commonly, mutual consent is all that is necessary. Also, if there are children involved with the divorce, majority of the time custody will go to the child’s mother in most societies. It is also starting to become common for both parents to receive co-custody of the child. If the parent that receives the custody remarries and brings the child with them to the new family, the family may resemble the dynamics of polygynous families. This may cause the relations between the children and relations with their parents to become complex and negotiated over time. Image of divorce document.

Divorce and remarriage in the U.S. culture is very common in today’s society. Over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce in this era. With so many people getting divorces, remarriage is not uncommon. Although this is not unusual, it still can be very devastating for everyone involved. I have seen the effects of parents getting a divorce on many of my friends and it can create a very difficult situation. Also, if the parents where to marry someone else then this can cause some awkwardness for the kids involved, towards the new family. Even though many couples are getting divorces and remarrying in this culture, it still can take a toll on the people involved no matter how common it has become.


Even though kinship is most often termed as family ties, the view of individualism within a culture affects kinship interactions. Individualism has been perpetuated in American culture as a positive attribute to posses.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Authors of great works in American culture such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Nathanial Hawthorne, and F. Scott Fitzgerald all in some way or another stressed the importance of individualism, and the importance of retaining one’s own particular identity despite the pressures of society or other people to conform. In a good number of American families it is not uncommon to be separated for most of the day. Children go off to school or daycare while parents go off to work, often for long hours. When they reunite at home, often it is only for a short time to catch up on the day’s news before they all separate to their own parts of the house for their alone time. Alone time is greatly valued as a time to relax from a busy day. Family members might even be in the same room, yet engaging in different activities. Nevertheless, if one asked these people if they loved their family, they would most likely say they did. In other cultures, this long separation between families might sound unloving and very strange. In a culture where there is a collective effort to survive, for example, there is an incentive to work together and never venture off alone. This creates a bond that a family needs each other to survive in more pertinent terms than in American culture. In these kind of cultures and others there is no separation of alone time and family time. A sign of individualism means something different according to different cultures, and is reflected in how people choose to spend their time.


Herzon Ludwig family tree

Genealogy which stems from the Greek words logos and genea meaning descent knowledge is the study of family’s lineages through history. Genealogists strive to learn when, where, and how certain people lived. Their subjects are usually their ancestors, particularly small groups, or an important or famous person.

Genealogy was traditionally used in Western societies to determine the blood rights of nobles and kings. The ruling class used genealogy and recorded their lineage because being a noble or royalty gave them certain privileges. Genealogy is now mainly used by hobbyists, who easily use resources on the internet to track their family history. One site commonly used for this is

Genealogy is not the same as kinship. Genealogy is the study of tracing a family's lineage all the way back to the earliest ancestor, whereas kinship is based on the feeling of relatedness to people through descent, sharing, or marriage.

The History of Genealogy[edit]

The history of genealogy can be separated into the three periods- 1. Oral tradition 2. Written pedigrees 3. Modern genealogy. Adding to the concept of genealogy and the evolution of why and how it applies to the past and present. [61] [62]

Oral tradition[edit]

Early civilizations relied on memory to recite pedigrees of monarchs or noble families. This lead towards establishing the authority of a “pure” bloodline by listing the names of the family members, relations, marriages, and children of descent. For example, in the Bible, there are countless genealogies that are from the direct bloodline of King David. Specific passages where genealogies can be found in the Old Testament are in Genesis 5 [48][63] and 10 [49][64]. In the New Testament passages come from Matthew 1:2-16 [50][65] and Luke 3:23-38 [51][66].

Written pedigrees[edit]

During the time of the Greeks and the Romans pedigrees were starting to be recorded in written form rather than by memory. From 1100 to the 1500s monks recorded the English monarchy and noble families genealogies. The middle class (landowners) genealogies started being recorded as well. This was due to the events of the Reformation and the early formations of a census during the Renaissances. As Feudalism began to disappear and the middle class began to grow. For example, the Tudor family's lineage can be traced back to the 1400s. [52] [67]

Modern genealogy[edit]

There has been an increasing interest in one’s own genealogy since 1945. The average citizen is able to research their own family genealogy through public records or on websites such as[53][68]. However, professional genealogists research a wide range of information. Focusing not only on the family background but the country’s history as well. A common problem that both genealogists and anthropologists face is genealogical amnesia[69][70]. For example, in places such as Bali people are referred to as the descendant of their mother or father instead of by their personal names. This is known as teknonymy [71][72]. Genealogical amnesia is also practiced in the United States, married women tend to take their husband’s last name and abandon their maiden name.

Tekonymy in Bali[edit]

Teknonymy distinguishes the main generational strata, the children, parents, grandparents, and great grandparents strata which are in turn significant components of village society, such as in the cases of teknonymy in Bali The Balinese gentry however exhibit in reverse the relationship between tekonymy and community social position. Most nobles are addressed not by teknonyms, but by a single honorific title which persists throughout their lives, unaffected by age or generation. In some cases, the teknonyms employed are specially modified forms, terms which are more eloquent than those employed by commoners and which vary quite precisely with their rank within the gentry group.


A dictionary definition of friendship is "one joined to another in intimacy and mutual benevolence independent of sexual or family love." Friendship is the "unofficial" bonds that people construct for others. As ties to kinship transform the importance of friendship increases. This brings about the emergence of new forms of friendship.[54]

Examples of Friendship[edit]

Friendship within the Family[edit]

Even though Western societies try to separate friendship and kinship, in practice they are usually connected. This is best seen in husbands and wives consider themselves "best friends" or siblings considering each other their best friends.

Many parents in Western societies encourage their children to be friends. Throughout childhood, parents are constantly trying to get siblings to get along. From the time as young children and sharing toys to teenagers and having the older sibling drop the younger one off at places. From a young age, Americans are taught to love, respect, and be kind to their other siblings.

Platonic Parenting[edit]

Platonic parenting is two people raising a child, or several children, together usually in a single home, without any sexual or romantic commitment. This is often the result of homosexual men or women that either can't afford or don't want to deal with the hassle of a sperm/egg donor. Many people believe tat even though the child would be brought up in a home that isn't made from marriage, it is better than other situations because the child(ren) will have a loving support system that won't depend on a lover, a husband or a wife, but rather two friends that want nothing but the best for them. [73]

Another common reason for platonic parenting is when a child has been brought into a home and the parents divorce or just plain fall out of love, but don't want to physically split, so they stay parenting the child as friends. American actress Gwyneth Paltrow adds a whole new layer to this by creating the term "conscious uncoupling," which is how she's maintaining a healthy relationship with her children and her ex-husband while going through the divorce. Her children say their parents "feel more like siblings than exes"[74]. While some may see this as strange, it is a very possible way of keeping children healthy and safe away from a divorce, however messy.

The Bangwa[edit]

The Bangwa of Cameroon value friendship above kinship. Friendship is valued more because within kinship there are the inequalities of age and status, whereas friends spend long hours together and rely on one another in politics. Friendship aids in balance out the defects and limitations of kinship. [55]

American College Students[edit]

In college, students are able to choose new companions, free of outside influences. College provides the opportunity to make new friendships from scratch, and students are able to immerse themselves in a new community of people who have no prior knowledge or preconceived ideas about who one another is. Students are also commonly away from their parents and previous friend group, whose opinions may have less influence over students choices in new friendship.This can be extremely liberating for many students, and because of this, these students may find that they are able to make closer friendships and showcase who they really are. The downfall of this friendship is that it is invisible and there is no clear declaration of the friendship. [56]

Friends With Benefits[edit]

Another variety of friendship commonly found in college-aged student, as well as those younger and older, is that of friends with benefits. This is the concept of having a friendship of sorts with another person that involves being sexually intimate, but does not include the other aspects of a traditional relationship such as being exclusive or considering the other person to be a boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner. These casual sexual relations have can be found throughout societies in any time frame, but seem to be on the rise, especially with the publication of books and movies such as "Friends with Benefits". Aside from the sexual intimacy, these friendships appear outwardly in the same way a typical college friendship, or any friendship of another kind would present itself. Friends with benefits has become a more common arrangement since the development of dating apps like Tinder. Dating apps are convenient and give users an increased feeling of choice in their potential dating partners. Because of this, the search for the “perfect partner” becomes endless, and makes committing to one partner more difficult. The option of being just “friends with benefits” with someone gives people the chance to try out certain partners without being tied down to them, while also allowing people to continue on with their search for “the one”.

Roman Friendship[edit]

The Romans believe that, for a friendship to exist, the two people must be completely and entirely honest and truthful with each other. It is not considered a true friendship if this is not the case. Romans also believe that a friend should be able to do something for the other without any thought whatsoever of a sort of repayment. If a friend is going to do something against your morals, it is your obligation as their friend to talk them out of it and show them the error of their ways.


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