descent, in anthropology, method of classifying individuals in terms of their various kinship connections. Matrilineal and patrilineal descent refer to the mother's or father's sib (or other group), respectively. Bilateral descent refers to descent derived from both sibs equally. Descent groups are of basic significance in the social structure of most nonindustrial societies. They constitute a series of social groups that dominate the domestic organization and the process of socialization, the use and transfer of property, the settlement of disputes, religious activities such as ancestor worship, and certain political relationships. Some lineage systems extend to the limits of the society itself. The Tiv of E Nigeria, for example, all consider themselves descendants in the male line of an eponymous ancestor, and the genealogy of this progeny defines the complete outline of descent group structure.

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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* Descent II, sequel to Descent
* Descent³, sequel to Descent II

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