System of acknowledged social parentage whereby a person may claim kinship ties with another. Descent systems vary widely. The practical importance of descent comes from its use as a means for individuals to assert rights, duties, privileges, or status. Descent has special influence when rights to succession, inheritance, or residence follow kinship lines. One method of limiting the recognition of kinship is to emphasize the relationship through one parent only. Such unilineal kinship systems are of two main types—patrilineal systems, in which the relationships through the father are emphasized; and matrilineal systems, in which maternal relationships are stressed. These systems differ radically from cognatic systems, in which everyone has similar obligations to, and expectations from, both paternal and maternal kin. The cognatic system is somewhat vague and tends to characterize the more industrialized countries, in which individual rights and duties are increasingly defined institutionally or legally.
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