Cross-Cultural and U.S. Kinship

  • Bert N. Adams


Kinship units in certain societies, especially agricultural, play economic, political, religious, and other institutional roles. Additional characteristics of kin units in some societies include property-holding and inheritance, housing, need-obligation, and affective or emotional ties. There is, however, no simple linear disappearance of these characteristics as one moves from the kin-based society to the “originally solidary” or differentiated modern industrial state. Yet, compared to agricultural societies, kin units of the United States are less central to society’s operation, fulfilling an affective function to differing degrees and a need-obligation function to some extent and performing idiosyncratically in the areas of housing and inheritance. In the middle section of this chapter the significance of kin terms, the relative as a person, and the meanings of kin “distance” are considered. The last section of the chapter is given to a characterization of relationships among the following kin: parents and adult offspring, siblings and grandparents, secondary kin, and in-laws, with some attention to kin-keeping and to gender and ethnic differences in the United States.


Nuclear Family Kinship System Adult Offspring Residential Distance Terminological System 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bert N. Adams
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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