Mongols - Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. The kinship system (i.e., relations governed by rules of marriage, filiation, and descent) was strongly patrilineal in the past, but its larger units, the clans and lineages, lost many of their functions to the Manchu administrative institutions. Among herders the ail, a group of households consisting of kin and nonkin that migrated together, formed a discrete social unit. The functions of the ail included mutual help in times of trouble, common kinship rituals (weddings, hair-cutting rites, funerals, etc.), and economic exchange (payment of marriage expenses). Within urban settings, situational use of kinship ties is preferred over other corporate forms of kinship.

Marriage. Within the domestic cycle, there is more importance placed on marriage than on birth or death. Mongols typically married young: for girls it was at age 13 or 14, for boys a few years later. Today Mongolian peasants marry in their early twenties and immediately start a family. Urban Mongols, especially the college-educated, delay marriage until their late twenties and, sometimes, early thirties. Except for urbanites, there is no dating tradition and marriages continue to be arranged. Premarital sex is common among Mongolian herders in the IMAR. Postmarital residence is almost exclusively patrilocal. Birth control is discouraged in the MPR and encouraged in the IMAR. Among peasants and herders, divorce is rare.

Domestic Unit. Historically, the main kinship groups are the nuclear and extended family and the patronymic group (a group of agnatically related men with their wives and children). Within the MPR collective farm the household remains the basic domestic unit. Among the Mongols in the PRC the primary domestic units are the nuclear and stem family.

Inheritance. Until the seventh century and the establishment of Buddhist estates, "property" was defined only as movable property. Wives in Mongolian society had rights to inherit property. Under Communism that right continues to be guaranteed by law. The eldest son inherited part of the family wealth at the time of his marriage, and the youngest son inherited the remaining family property after both parents had died.

Socialization. Historically, cultural transmission occurred informally between parent and child. The common means of discipline are verbal reprimand and corporal punishment. In the MPR, primary education after the age of eight is free and compulsory. Ten years of schooling are required. Ninety percent of the Mongols in the MPR are literate. In the IMAR most Mongols attend primary school. In urban areas, most attend middle school. Very few Mongols attend college.


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