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The Importance Of Maintenance Of Kin Ties, Demographic Changes Affecting The Supply Of Kin, Other Determinants Of Kin Ties

The term kin refers to one's relatives or one's family. The nuclear family consists of parents and dependent children (a structure often complicated today by divorce and remarriage). Families become more complex when children reach adulthood, marry, and have children; they then include children-in-law and parents-in-law, grandchildren and grandparents. Sisters and brothers grow up to be aunts and uncles to each others' children (i.e., their nieces and nephews). All these relatives comprise an individual's kin, or members of one's extended family, as opposed to one's nuclear family. In some families there are people who are not actually blood relatives, but who are considered to be so close that they are like family members. Scholars have called such people fictive kin. Some scholars refer to our North American kinship system as a modified extended family system. This term is meant to capture the fact that family relationships and obligations extend well beyond the nuclear family household, but also that the emphasis is on intergenerational ties linking parents, children, and grandchildren. The extent to which other types of ties, such as those to siblings and to aunts, uncles, and cousins, are emphasized is more open to individual choice.

In North America, our kinship system is bilateral; that is, both one's mother's side of the family and one's father's side of the family are considered to be equal in terms of rights and obligations. In practice, however, there is a tendency in both the United States and Canada for kinship relations to be stronger among women than men, with the mother-daughter tie being the strongest of all. As a result of this greater closeness and involvement between female kin, and especially mothers and daughters, our kinship system often tends to emphasize the mother's side of the family. Young families often have more contact with the wife's parents and siblings than they do with the husband's side of the family. As a result, grandchildren tend to see more of their maternal grandparents and to feel closer to them. This pattern is modified, however, by the nature of the relationship between fathers and their parents; when closeness and involvement are high, grandchildren have close relationships with paternal grandparents and the matrilineal bias decreases or disappears.

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