When people get married in the western world, it is usually taken for granted that they will set up a new household and move away from their families of origin. However this is not necessarily the case in other parts of the world. In many traditional cultures, a newly married couple’s residence is dictated by customs that may have been in place for generations.
There are four main types of post-matrimonial residence: neolocal, virilocal (aka patrilocal), uxorilocal (aka matrilocal), and avunculocal.
Neolocal residence refers to situations where a married couple lives independently from both of their families. As previously mentioned, this is the most common type of marital residence in the western world.
This type of residence practice is closely tied with the formation of nuclear families and the concept of romantic love. The couple is seen as an independent unit and their primary loyalty is understood to be to each other and not to their parents.
Neolocality became the norm in the era of industrialization when people began to move away from rural areas in search of work. This led to couples forming their own households in locations based on the availability of work opportunities, as opposed to kinship bonds.
Neolocality is also linked to concepts such as bilocality or ambilocality, which refer to situations where couples are free to choose where to live and opt to live close to family (either on the male or the female side) based on practicalities that are not rooted in customs or tradition. A good example of such a decision is when a family opts to live close to the bride’s mother in order to have access to childcare or other forms of support.
In contrast, virilocal residence is when a married couple lives with or near the husband’s family. This type of residence is sometimes also referred to as patrilocal residence. When a son gets married, his wife joins him in his father’s home or compound.
This type of post marital residence is customary practice in India, where the wife is expected to move into the home of her husband’s parents and live with them after marriage. The concept of virilocal residence is also common in many parts of Africa.
Patrilocality is a very common type of marital residence in many parts of the world, particularly in rural areas. The main reason for this is that it allows newlyweds to work on the family family’s business or farm.
Another advantage of patrilocal residence is that it helps to keep land and property within the same family. In many cultures, land is passed down from father to son and it is thought that this system will be disrupted if the son lives too far away from his father.
Uxorilocal residence is when a married couple lives with or near the wife’s parents, or more specifically the wife’s mother. This type of residence is also sometimes referred to as matrilocal residence.
In some cases the husband and wife do not actually live together after marriage. The wife and her children live with her mother’s clan, while her husband comes to visit when the opportunity arises. This type of residence is often seen in cultures where the mother’s clan is more important than the father’s.
An example of this can be seen in the Mosuo culture of China, where women have a great deal of autonomy and are able to take multiple husbands. In this case, it would not make sense for a husband to live with his wife’s family as he would not be the only man in her life.
Like virilocal residence, uxorilocality is often a response to the need for newlyweds to have access to land or property. In cultures where women are seen as the owners of land and property, it makes sense for the couple to live near the wife’s mother in order to maintain control over these resources.
Uxorilocal residence is also often a response to the fact that women have stronger kinship bonds than men. In many cultures, it is thought that a woman’s primary loyalty is to her mother and not her husband. As a result, it is thought that the couple will be better off living near the wife’s family in order to maintain these bonds.
The final type of marital residence is avunculocal residence, which is when a married couple lives with or near the husband’s mother’s brother. This might seem like a strange arrangement to most westerners, but it is widely practiced in cultures where children are seen to descend from the mother’s bloodline, and hence the mother’s brother is seen to be more closely related to the child than their father.
The typical avunculocal residence would consist of multiple generations living under one roof: the senior husband and wife, the husband’s nephews and their wives, and any unmarried daughters and preadolescent sons. When the sons become of age, they leave the residence of their parents and move in with their uncle, and when they marry, their wives will live with them in their uncle’s household as well.
Final thoughts on traditional residence customs
In conclusion, there are four main types of residence customs after marriage: neolocal, virilocal (aka patrilocal), (uxorilocal) matrilocal, and avunculocal. Each of these customs are practiced in different parts of the world and are tied to different concepts such as nuclear families, romantic love, industrialization and inheritance.
While neolocal residence is the most common type of marital residence in the western world, countries such as India or China have different customs that link to their own unique cultures and traditions.
Understanding these different customs can help to give us a greater understanding of the world around us and the different ways that people live their lives.
For Further Reading
What are the key components of the anthropological perspective?
“Cultural values are a web of linked concepts, fixed in time and space.”
Evans-Pritchard and the Religion of the Nuer Tribe
How do economic and residence practices impact women’s status and power?
What are the different marriage wealth-exchange practices?
Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Structuralism and its Influence on Anthropological Thought
Clifford Geertz and the Thick Description of the Balinese Cockfight
Bronislaw Malinowski, the Trobriand people and the Kula
Why did Marxist ideas only start being applied in Anthropology in the last half century, and what are some of the key ideas that influence Materialistic Anthropology?
Dance as Ritual – an anthropological perspective
How Residence Customs After Marriage Vary Around the World
Compare the operations and implications of Bridewealth and Dowry
The impact of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) on Anthropology
“The two-gender system is neither innate nor universal” (Towle and Morgan 2006)
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