Matrilineal vs Matriarchal: Difference and Comparison

Matrilineality and matriarchy are two notions that are centered on women. Matrilineality, on the other hand, is not the same as a matriarchy. The terms matrilineality and matriarchy are not interchangeable.  

The term ‘matrilineal’ is frequently confused with the sounding term ‘matriarchy.’ ‘Matriarchy,’ by definition, is a kind of social structure in which women hold the majority of authority; however, this is rarely, if ever, the case.  

Key Takeaways

  1. In a matrilineal society, the descent is traced through the mother’s line, while women hold the primary power in a matriarchal society.
  2. Matrilineal societies are found in various parts of the world, while matriarchal societies are rare.
  3. Matrilineal societies do not necessarily have female-dominated households, while matriarchal societies do.

Matrilineal vs Matriarchal  

Matrilineal is a type of family structure where family lineage and inheritance are traced through the mother’s side of the family. Matriarchal is a term that is used to describe a societal structure where women hold the primary power and leadership positions in the family and community.

Matrilineal vs Matriarchal

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Matrilineal society, also known as matriliny, is a kinship system in which maternal rather than paternal lines are used to trace ancestral descent (the latter being termed patrilineage or patriline).

Family, marriage, postmarital residence, restrictions prohibiting sexual encounters (and thus marriage) between specific categories of kin, descent, and the terminology used to name kin are all key components in every society’s system of reckoning kinship.  

Matriarchy is a social structure in which women possess the majority of power in areas such as political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and property control.

While those definitions apply in ordinary English, anthropology and feminism have their own definitions that differ in some ways.  

Comparison Table

Parameters of Comparison Matrilineal Matriarchal 
What is itKinship with mother’s or female line A social organization ruled by women. 
Nature Involved tracing kinship and descent through the female line A social system where women hold the power. 
Society More common Extremely rare 
Opposites Patrilineal Patriarchal 
Example Meghalaya Khasi, Jaintia, Garo tribes, Nayyar family, etc. Minangkabau in Indonesia, Bribri in Costa Rica, Umoja in Kenya, Mosuo in China, etc. 

What is Matrilineal?  

Matrilineal kinship refers to kinship with one’s mother or female line. It’s also possible that titles and property will be passed down through the female line. This is also known as matrilineal descent.

The antithesis of patrilineality, which is the arrangement of family relationships by lines of ancestry from a person’s male ancestors, is matrilineality. The most common kind of unilineal descent is patrilineality.   

Matrilineality is uncommon in modern civilization, but it can be found in several traditional cultures and societies, such as the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, the Kuna of Panama, the Mosuo of China, and the Kogi and Carib of South America.  

A lineage is a group of people who share a common ancestor; for example, in a matrilineage, they are related as kin through the female line of ancestry.  

Matrilineage is occasionally linked to polyandry or group marriage (marriage of one woman to two or more men at the same time). Anthropologists have offered several analyses and viewpoints on kinship and its significance in society.   

Classic kinship theory constructs normative structures to contextualize heterosexuality and male dominance in matrilineal civilizations but fails to capture the broader social nuances and connotations.

The discourse of what Blackwood refers to as “the ghost of the Patriarchal Man,” which continues to dominate conceptions of kinship, marriage, and family, is formed by these normative institutions.   

Women face limits as a result of this role conflict because they can never be certain that their spouse will find his sister’s home more welcoming than her own.

Similarly, a sister may be concerned about her brother’s devotion to her well-being because his wife can always lure him away from his commitments to his natal home.

As a result, possessing a woman is merely a symbolic authority.  

What is Matriarchal?  

Matriarchy is a hypothetical social structure in which the mother or a female elder has absolute control over the family group, and one or more women (as in a council) have a similar level of authority over the entire community.  

The term matriarchal refers to a societal structure in which a woman is in charge. Women have more influence in a matriarchal society. Matriarchy is derived from the Greek words ‘matr’ (mother) and ‘archein’ (ruler) (to rule).   

Matriarchy is the polar opposite of patriarchy, in which men hold all of society’s power. In civilizations, patriarchy is significantly more widespread than patriarchy.

It’s also vital to understand that non-patriarchal societies aren’t necessarily matriarchal. Absolute matriarchies were and continue to be extremely uncommon.

The Amazonian women’s legends, the Cham of central Vietnam, the Germanic tribe of the Sidonians, and the myths of the queen-priestess of Minoan Crete all depict matriarchy.

However, there is no solid evidence that they exist.  

The Mosuo tribe of China is considered a matriarchal civilization by several anthropologists. This is a matriarchal culture with some elements of a matrilineal society.

Women are the heads of households in this culture, they make economic decisions, and property is passed down through the female line; nonetheless, it is not a total matriarchy.  

Matriarchies, matrilineal, matrilocal, and matrifocal societies are all terms that can be used interchangeably.

While some may regard any non-patriarchal system to be matriarchal, most academics do not consider those systems to be matriarchal in the literal sense.  

Main Differences Between Matrilineal and Matriarchal  

  1. Matrilineal is known as the kinship with the mother’s line of the family, whereas matriarchal is a social organization that is run by women.  
  2. Matrilineal involves tracing the lineage and descent through the mother’s line, and matriarchal society is a social system where everything is ruled over by women.  
  3. Matrilineal is more common than matriarchal societies.  
  4. The opposite of matrilineal is patrilineal, and the opposite of matriarchal is patriarchal.  
  5. Examples of matrilineal societies can include Garo tribes, Meghalaya Khasi, Jaintia, etc. Examples of matriarchal societies can include Mosuo in China, Bribri in Costa Roca. etc.  



Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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