Relationship Between Demographic Behavior & Kinship Structures

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  • 0:00 Demographics and Kinships
  • 1:21 Demographics Influence Kinship
  • 3:28 Kinship Influences…
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Which came first, a change in demographics or a change in kinship? It's an age-old question for researchers. In this lesson, explore the relationship between these two factors, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Demographics and Kinship

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, obviously, the chicken. But, that chicken came from an egg. So where did the egg come from? Well, it must have come from the chicken, but that chicken had to have come from an egg, and that egg must have come from a chicken…maybe I need to focus on easier questions about chickens. Like why they crossed the road…

Sometimes, this can happen with research. We pick a topic, study it, but it's unclear exactly where a certain phenomenon begins. This is certainly true of the relationship between demographics, the statistical behavior of a population, and kinship, organization of family structures. When one of these change, it influences the other - almost every time. But what comes first - the demographic shift or the change in kinship? Sometimes it's not clear. What really matters is that there is a direct relationship; one influences the other. I can say that I'm studying the way that eggs influence the next generation of chickens, or the way that chickens produce eggs, but really it's just about understanding how one affects the other.

Demographics Influence Kinship

We can't always prove exactly where something started, because generally kinship and demographics change together. But, we can look at the way that direct changes in one impacts the other. Let's start by examining how a change in demographic behaviors can influence kinship.

Here's a great place to start. This is Studyburg, a fictional virtual community that has recently gone through a major period of industrialization. Demographers have noted that when areas industrialize, they go through predictable patterns of changes in fertility, mortality, and other factors, called a demographic transition. There are several stages of demographic transitions as areas industrialize, and Studyburg has recently gone through the last one mentioned: a change in mortality. Why is this? Well, healthcare has dramatically improved, thanks to better access to medicine and better quality food, sanitation, and hygiene. As a result, fewer people die from disease, and more people are living longer lives.

Those are demographic changes: the average lifespan increases, and the rates of mortality decrease. What does this mean for kinship structures? Well, I see one change off the bat. People in Studyburg traditionally took care of elderly parents once the other parent died; widows or widowers lived with their children. But, this has recently changed. Now, very few adults have elderly parents living with them, so this is a change in kinship. But, the change in kinship was a result of the demographic change. With better healthcare, people live longer, which simply means that there are fewer widows and widowers. On average, both parents live to about the same age, so there's never any real need for children to take in a single parent. This is an example of demographics changing and kinship being affected by that change.

Kinship Influences Demographics

That's a great example of how we can see a change in demographics influencing kinship. But, how about the inverse? Where do we see changes in kinship influencing demographics?

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