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What is the difference between matrilineal and patrilineal societies?

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Quick Answer

Patrilineal societies are societies in which inheritance and royal succession trace through the father of the family. Matrilineal societies are those in which royal succession and inheritance trace through the mother.

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Examples of groups that have matrilineal societies include many Jewish communities, as well as the Cherokee and Navajo Indians. It is important to note that there is a difference between matrilineal and matriarchal. It is entirely possible for a society to have a female line of inheritance of title and property, but still be a society that is controlled primarily by men.

The Jewish culture is an example of one that has matrilineal descent. For example, in many communities, if a person’s mother is Jewish and father is not, the child still counts as Jewish since the line traces through the mother. In some matrilineal societies, matrilineal surnames are passed down from mother to daughter instead of the more traditional patrilineal surnames that go from father to son.

Most cultures in Europe were patrilineal, such as the one in England. Even when a woman inherited power, such as with Elizabeth I, it happened only because there were no other men who qualified in the line. Elizabeth still inherited the title from her father, Henry VIII.

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