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Kottak: Cultural Anthropology 9e
Cultural Anthropology, 9/e
Conrad P. Kottak, University of Michigan

Marriage

FAQ

Why do anthropologists distinguish between a person's pater and genitor?
'This distinction is made because in many societies a person's biological father (genitor) is the person who performs the duties of a father. For example, in many matrilineal societies the mother's brother serves as the pater because he belongs to the same descent group as the mother and the child. Since descent group affiliation is determined through the female line, the genitor is not considered kin to the child. An example from Western society involves children who have been adopted. Many adopted children grow up with a pater without ever knowing their genitor.


Isn't the purpose of marriage to have children?
'Cross-culturally, people get married for a variety of reasons. Having children is just one of these reasons. In addition to granting spouses exclusive access to each other and establishing the legal parents of children, marriage serves many roles not directly related to sex. Marriages also serve an important economic role as spouses pool their labor, resources, and property, which reduces risk and increases productivity. In general, single people are at an economic disadvantage compared to people who are married. The textbook discusses the global trend of the feminization of poverty in which more and more of the world's poor live in households headed by single women. Anthropologists argue that plural marriages exist in part due to the economic advantages of having additional spouses. Since marriages create relationships between groups as well as between spouses, they also play an important role in creating and maintaining social and political relationships. Bridewealth and dowry exchanges help cement ties between the descent groups of the spouses.


In polygamous societies, does every male have multiple wives?
'Not necessarily. In polygamous societies, most men are monogamous and only a fraction of the marriages are polygamous. This is due in part to the fact that in most human societies there are roughly as many women as men, which makes it impossible for every man to have multiple wives. In many polygamous societies, the number of wives is an indicator of a man's household productivity, prestige, and social position. More wives means more productivity, which leads to greater wealth. This wealth can be used to marry more women, which in turn further increases productivity. In other instances, men are polygamous because they have inherited a widow from a brother.