Residence Rules

Post-marital residence rules specify where a person resides after marriage and, accordingly, influence the structure and size of household units. Anthropologists have identified several basic rules and related domestic forms. However, adherence to a specific residence rules involves many complications and consequences and a firm classification of a particular society's arrangements is sometime ambiguous. Accordingly, the form and dynamics of household must be understood in terms of houselhold flexibility, ideal vs actual arrangements, and the domestic cycle. The following general patterns have been observed in varying socieities around the world.

  1. Neolocal Residence
    This system is determined by a rule that each spouse leaves his or her family of origin and jointly forms a new household, which develops as nuclear family. This is of course the basic pattern in modern industrial societies.

  2. Patrilocal Residence
    A patrilocal rule specifies that, upon marriage, a man remains in his father's household while his wife leaves her family to move in with him. As children are born, they are added to the paternal unit. The result is a patrilocal extended family, in which three or more generations of related men live together to form a shallow patrilineage. An alternate designation, virilocal, refers to a simpler rule that a wife must move to her husband's residence.

  3. Matrilocal Residence
    A matrilocal rule specifies that, upon marriage, a woman remains in her mother's household while her husband leaves his family to move in with her. As children are born, they are added to the maternal unit. The result is a matrilocal extended family, in which three or more generations of related women live together to form a shallow matrilineage. An alternate designation, uxorilocal, refers to a simpler rule that a husband must move to his wife's residence.

  4. Matrifocal Residence
    A matrifocal family consists of a woman and her children and sometimes her daughter's children, without coresident husbands or other adult men. This pattern is not usually an expression of a rule or cultural preference but results from economic conditions in which a man is unable to support a family. The household form is different from a matrilocal one, in which wives and husbands are coresident.

  5. Avunculocal Residence
    The avunculocal rule is more complicated than the previous ones, since two residence changes are involved. Household formation begins with a virilocal rule, placing a married woman in her husband's household, where their children are raised. Upon reaching maturity, the men must relocate to their mother's brother's household, the actual avunculocal move. The result is an avunculocal extended family consisting of one or more elder men, their sister's sons, and the wives and immature children of all the married men.

  6. Ambilocal Residence
    In a ambilocal pattern a married couple decides whether to join either the husband's or wife's household of origin. According to the choice made in the previous generations, they may reside with either spouse's father or mother. The result is an ambilocal extended family.

  7. Natalocal Residence
    The natalocal rule specifies that each partner remains with his and her own families of residence after marriage. If children remain in their mother's household the result will be the formation of domestic matrilineages to which all male and female residents belong.

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