Marriage, Family, and Kinship: Meaning, Definition, Types

Meaning of Marriage, Family and Kinship

Marriage as an institution regulates sexual relationships among humans. It gives cultural sanction and social approval to the union between males and females.

A family, in general, is a group based on marriage and marriage contracts, including recognition of the rights and duties of parenthood, common residence for husband wife and children and reciprocal economic obligation between husband and wife.

Kinship: Family is a group consisting of close relatives and these relatives are known as kins. Kinship is the relationship between persons by blood or marriage. It is a method of reckoning relationships.

Definition of Marriage

A relationship between a woman and one or more other persons, which provides that a child born to the woman under circumstances not prohibited by the rules of relationship is accorded full birth status, rights common to normal members of his society for social stratumKathleen Gough, British Anthropologist
As a relation of one or more men to one or more women which is recognized by custom or law and involves certain rights and duties both in the case of parties entering the union and in the case of children born of itWestermarck, Finnish Anthropologist

Definition of Family

A family is a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It includes both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted” – George Peter Murdock, An American anthropologist1957, World Ethnographic Sample
Family is a group based on marital relations, rights and duties of parenthood, common habitation, and reciprocal relations between parent and childrenRobert H Lowie, an American Anthropologist

Definition of Kinship

In all societies, people are bound together in groups by various kinds of bonds. The most universal and the most basic of these bonds, that which is based on reproduction and inherent human drive, is called kinshipAuthor

Types of Marriage

Generally there are two forms of marriage, namely, monogamy and polygamy which are commonly seen all over the world. Here, the form of marriage depends upon the number of spouses involved in the marriage. Different forms and sub-forms of marriage are given in the following chart:

  1. Monogamy
  2. Polygamy


Monogamy is a form of marriage in which an individual has a single spouse at a given time. It has two sub-forms, serial monogamy and non-serial monogamy.

  1. Serial Monogamy: Serial monogamy is a sub-form of monogamy in which an individual has several spouses in succession. For instance, the Semangs of Malay forest in Malaysia, limit themselves to one wife. In case of divorce or death of a wife, Semang marries again and again and leads a monogamous life.

2. Non-Serial Monogamy: Non-serial monogamy is a sub-form of monogamy in which an individual has the same single spouse life-long.


Polygamy is a form of marriage in which an individual has multiple spouses at any time. Polygamy has three sub-forms: polygyny, polyandry and polygynandry.

  1. Polygyny
  2. Polyandry
  3. Polygynandry


Polygyny is the sub-form of polygamy in which male has multiple wives at any time. Naga, Baiga and Gond are some of the tribes who practice polygyny. Polygyny exists in two types: sorroral polygyny and non-sorroral polygyny.


Polyandry is the sub-form of polygamy in which a woman has multiple husbands at any given time. Shortage of women was explained as one of the reasons for the practice of polyandry. Polyandry appeared in two sub-forms: fraternal polyandry (adelphic polyandry) and non-fraternal polyandry (non adelphic polyandry).


Polygynandry is a sub-form of polygamy in which a man has multiple wives and a woman has multiple husbands at any given time. It shows the co-existence of polygamy and polyandry. These different forms of marriage maybe because of poverty, prestige, power, limited resources, etc.

Forms of Family

Broadly, there are two types of families namely:

  1. Nuclear Family
  2. Composite

Nuclear Family

Nuclear family is also known as Monogamous family. This is formed as a result of monogamous marriages, marriage between one man and one woman. Thus, nuclear family consists of a married man and woman with their offspring.

In some, cases additional persons may reside with them. Nuclear family is known by different names – Elementary family, Basic family, Conjugal family and Primary family.


Composite family: Composite family is an aggregation of two or more nuclear families. It can be through marriages as well as through parent-child relationship.

Composite family is of two types:

  1. Polygamous
  2. Extended Family


Polygamous family consists of two or more nuclear families formed through plural marriages namely, Polygyny and Polyandry. Thus, they form Polygynous family and Polyandrous family respectively.

Extended Family

Extended family consists of two or more nuclear families formed by parent-child relationship. Depending on the residence after marriage, the extended family is divided into patrilocal family, matrilocal family, avanculocal family and bilocal family.

Types of Kinship

Kinship or kin relationships are usually classified into two broad categories:

  1. Consanguineal Relationships
  2. Affinal Relationships

Consanguineal Relationship

Consanguineal Relationship: If the kin is related by blood, it is called consanguineal relationship. Parent-children relationship as well as the relationship between siblings, that is, children of same parents, comes under Consanguineal relationship. An adopted child is treated as biologically produced offspring. So such child is Consanguineal kin.

Affinal Relationship

Affinal Relationship: When kins are related by marriage it is called affinal relationship. The relatives formed through marital relationship are called Affinal kins. Relatioship between husband and wife and their relatives come under affinal kinship. To reckon the kin relationship we use different symbols and abbreviations in anthropology

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