What is the Difference Between Kinship and Descent

The main difference between kinship and descent is that kinship considers both biological relationships and non-biological relationships, whereas descent considers only biological relationships.

Descent and kinship are two notions that help us to trace our ancestors. Kinship is a system of social relationships between people based on blood or marriage while descent is the socially existing recognized biological relationships between people in the society.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Kinship 
     – Definition, Types, Degree
2. What is Descent
     – Definition, Types
3. What is the Difference Between Kinship and Descent
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Affinal Kinship, Consanguineous Kinship, Cognatic Descent, Unilineal Descent

Difference Between Kinship and Descent - Comparison Summary

What is Kinship

Kinship is a system of social relationships between people based on blood or marriage. It is one of the main organizing principles of society. Furthermore, there are two main types of kinship: consanguineous kinship and affinal kinship.

Types of Kinship

Consanguineous kinships are relations based on blood. For example, the relationship between parents and children, the relationship between siblings are basic and universal consanguineous kinships. Affinal kinships, on the other hand, are relationships based on marriage. The most basic example is the relationship between wife and husband. When a person gets married, he or she establishes a relationship not only with his/her spouse but also the family of the spouse. Therefore, a number of relationships are formed just as the marriage takes place. For example, relationships like mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, etc.

Difference Between Kinship and Descent

Degree of Kinship

The relationship between people may be based on the degree of closeness or distance of the relationship. There are basically three degrees in kinship: primary, secondary, tertiary. Each of these three degrees also has two types as consanguineous and affinal.

Primary kin refers to direct relations. There are eight basic primary kinships: husband-wife, mother-daughter, mother-son, father-daughter, father-son, sister-brother, younger-elder brothers, and younger-elder sisters. The only primary affinal kinship is the relationship between husband and wife. Therefore, all other primary kinships are consanguineous.

Secondary kin refers to the primary kin of primary kin. For example, father’s sister, mother’s mother, wife’s father, etc. are secondary kin. One’s in-laws fall under secondary affinal kinship while relationships like grandparents-grandchildren, aunt-niece, uncle-nephew, etc. fall under secondary consanguineous kinship.

Tertiary kin refers to primary kin of secondary kin or secondary kin of primary kin. For example, one’s grandmother’s (secondary kin) mother (primary of secondary kin) is one’s tertiary kin. This is an example of consanguineous kinship. An example of a tertiary affinal kinship is brother-in-law’s wife or mother-in-law’s brother.

What is Descent

Descent refers to socially existing recognized links between ancestors and descendants, such as the bond between children and their parents. A descent group is a group whose members have a common ancestor. Moreover, descent helps to trace an individual’s ancestry. There are two basic descent systems to trace an individual’s ancestry: unilineal descent and cognatic descent.  

Unilineal descent is a method of tracing kinship through only a single line of ancestors. There are two main types of unilineal descent as patrilineal descent and matrilineal descent. Patrilineal descent is a descent system that involves the tracing of kinship through the male line, while matrilineal descent is a descent system that involves the tracing of kinship through the female line.

Main Difference - Kinship vs Descent

Cognatic descent refers to a method of tracing kinship through both mother’s and father’s ancestors to some degree. There are two main forms of cognatic descent: ambilineal descent and bilateral descent. In bilateral descent, relatives from both mother’s and father’s side are equally important. The children are considered to be equally descended through both parents. In ambilineal descent, the children choose either the mother or father’s side of the family to be considered relatives, usually upon reaching adulthood.

Difference Between Kinship and Descent

Definition

Kinship is a system of social relationships between people based on blood or marriage while descent is the socially existing recognized biological relationships between people in the society.

Type of Relationship

Kinship considers both biological relationships and non-biological relationships (relationships created by marriage, adopted children, etc.) whereas descent considers only biological relationships.

Types

There are two main types of kinship as consanguineous kinship and affinal kinship while there are two basic types of descent as unilineal descent and cognatic descent.  

Conclusion

Descent and kinship are two notions that help us to trace our ancestors. Kinship considers both biological relationships and non-biological relationships (relationships created by marriage, adopted children, etc.) whereas descent considers only biological relationships. Thus, this is the main difference between kinship and descent.

Reference:

1. Evans, Tracy. “Cultural Anthropology.” Lumen, Available here.
2. Shah, Shelly. “Kinship: Meaning, Types and Other Information.” Sociology Discussion – Discuss Anything About Sociology, 23 Apr. 2015, Available here.
3. “Kinship: Meaning, Types and Other Details.” Your Article Library, 12 Apr. 2014, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Cousin tree (with genetic kinship)” By Dimario – Own work, (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Trelawny Family Tree” By Dbprell – Own work (CC0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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