Female mobility and postmarital kin access in a patrilocal society

Hum Nat. 2011 Dec;22(4):377-93. doi: 10.1007/s12110-011-9125-5.


Across a wide variety of cultural settings, kin have been shown to play an important role in promoting women's reproductive success. Patrilocal postmarital residence is a potential hindrance to maintaining these support networks, raising the question: how do women preserve and foster relationships with their natal kin when propinquity is disrupted? Using census and interview data from the Himba, a group of semi-nomadic African pastoralists, I first show that although women have reduced kin propinquity after marriage, more than half of married women are visiting with their kin at a given time. Mobility recall data further show that married women travel more than unmarried women, and that women consistently return to stay with kin around the time of giving birth. Divorce and death of a spouse also trigger a return to living with kin, leading to a cumulative pattern of kin coresidence across the lifespan. These data suggest that patrilocality may be less of a constraint on female kin support than has been previously assumed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Family Characteristics / ethnology*
  • Family Relations / ethnology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Marriage
  • Namibia
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Population Dynamics
  • Reproductive Behavior / ethnology*
  • Transients and Migrants
  • Travel*
  • Women's Health