Male Based versus Female Based Residence Patterns

The two most prevalent residence patterns are patrilocal (67% of the world's societies) and matrilocal (15% of the world's societies). There is one residence pattern that we have not yet discussed. It is called avunculocal residence. In this unusual pattern, couples live with the husband's mother's brother. Although it might be that both sons and daughters leave their homes to go to the husband's mother's brother, sometimes a boy will marry his mother's brother's daughter, in which case the wife remains home after her marriage. And if a boy has previously moved to his mother's brother's house, avunculocal residence may mean that neither the bride nor the groom leaves home after they get married. Avunculocal residence does result in males being localized, but instead of father and son, it is a man and his sister's son. Avunculocal residence is difficult to explain without first discussing matrilineal descent, so we will come back to this pattern later.

The major contrast, and perhaps the most important to explain, is why a society would choose to have sons

stay (patrilocal residence) or daughters stay (matrilocal residence). In other words, what explains patrilocality versus matrilocality?

For many years the traditional explanation of residential choice was that it was a function of who the "breadwinner" was. Presumably parents would be reluctant to let the gender contributing most to the economy leave home. To test this explanation, one can compare those societies with a high male contribution to basic food-getting activities (gathering, hunting, fishing, herding, agriculture) and those with a high female contribution to see if degree of contribution does predict residence. Two separate studies found no support for this simple expectation (Divale, 1974; M. Ember & Ember, 1971). Of course, this result does not mean that subsistence contribution has no effect; it may simply mean that subsistence contribution has no simple effect on residence (Korotayev, 2003; Pasternak, Ember, & Ember, 1997, p. 223). Indeed, the relationship between residence and subsistence contribution may be masked by a more important factor—the type of warfare in the society.

Most societies in the world have had warfare, by which we mean armed combat between communities or larger territorial units. In most societies people fight with communities belonging to the same language group or society—we call such warfare internal warfare. However, some societies have purely external warfare, or warfare only with people of a different society who speak a different language. Usually, then, in these societies, the "enemies" are more distant than speakers of the same language. We have reasoned that if a community may be attacked by one or more nearby communities, parents would want their sons at home to protect them (M. Ember & Ember, 1971). They would mistrust potential sons-in-law from other communities because such communities could have been enemy communities in the past or could be in the future. Daughters might be valuable economically if they do much of the subsistence work, but we argue that security concerns would take precedence over economic considerations, and so patrilocal residence should be favored when the warfare is at least sometimes internal, when the enemies might be coming from close by. On the other hand, if daughters contribute a great deal to the economy and warfare is purely external, parents need not worry who stays at home after marriage. There is no reason to suppose that a son-in-law would not defend the family against people attacking from another society. It is this situation (purely external warfare and women contributing a great deal to subsistence) that should favor matrilocal rather than patrilocal residence. Cross-cultural research confirms that internal warfare predicts patrilocal residence and purely external warfare predicts matrilocal residence (Divale, 1974; M. Ember & Ember, 1971). Furthermore, the combination of purely external warfare and relatively high female contribution to subsistence predicts matrilocal residence even more strongly, and patrilocal residence is predicted by internal warfare or by males doing most of the subsistence work (C. R. Ember, 1974, endnote 2).

It should be noted that Divale (1974) has different interpretations for the relationship between internal warfare and patrilocality and for the relationship between purely external warfare and matrilocality. Whereas the Embers argue that type of warfare is a cause of matrilo-cal or patrilocal residence, Divale (1974) argues that type of warfare is a consequence of residence. More specifically, he suggests that residence will "normally" be patrilocal because males are generally dominant. Citing "fraternal interest group theory," Divale suggests that localized groups of related males are likely to get into fights with other such groups in nearby communities, creating internal warfare. He suggests that matrilocal residence develops when people migrate into an already inhabited area and the intruding society cannot afford internal fighting, which would make it adaptive to switch to matrilocal residence to promote internal harmony. Divale assumes that matrilocal residence promotes internal peacefulness because it scatters related males. Divale's cross-cultural research seems to support his interpretation of matrilocality; it does seem to be associated with migration into previously inhabited areas. But there are a number of problems with Divale's causal theory (C. R. Ember, 1974). First, migration and matrilocality are not that strongly associated. Only about half of the migrating societies in Divale's sample are matrilocal. If matrilocality were so advantageous for promoting peace, why did not most migrating societies become matrilocal? Second, how would people have realized the peace-keeping potential of matrilocal residence? It is not until matrilocal residence is in existence that related males are scattered. Third, size of society seems to predict purely external warfare. Societies under 21,000 people are likely to have internal peace, perhaps because a population of that size or smaller facilitates informal connections between people that can minimize the risk of fighting. Matrilocal societies are significantly smaller than patrilocal societies, so perhaps they are unlikely to have internal warfare for this reason alone.

The Embers' theory and the Divale theory both explain why patrilocality is much more prevalent than matrilocality. Divale says that male dominance is responsible. But males are dominant in all known societies, so how come patrilocality is not universal? If the Embers are right, matrilocality occurs only with the combination of purely external warfare and women contributing a good deal to subsistence; patrilocality would occur either because of internal war (more common than purely external war) or because men did most of the subsistence work (more common than equal or high women's contribution).

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