Facing 3rd millennium challenges with matrilocal families

The family institution is in disarray

Currently, the family as known in our Western countries is based on the nuclear model. This is a very small form of family, which focuses on the father and the mother, as well as their multiple children. This model, whose marriage is the legal representation, is now in disarray. Daniel Dagenais has eloquently demonstrated the fact in his book " La fin de la famille moderne " (The End of the Modern Family) 1 . In "La famille à l'horizon 2020" (The Family by 2020), Marie Pratte suggests the path of a legal union between a brother and a sister, or between a child and a sick parent as an alternative to marriage 2 . Surprisingly, we continue to limit to a couple of two individuals the foundation of these new legal forms of the family.

The current setbacks of our families are numerous. Suffice it to raise its disastrous results through two of his most important social responsibilities:

  1. Renew the population;
  2. Fulfill children’s primary need for a stable and safe environment from birth to adulthood.

Population renewal

In terms of population renewal, today's modern family performance remains below the minimum threshold by almost 25% over the last 45 years 3 . This is serious because, to compensate, our governments undertook a very poorly planned immigration policy. A society incapable of self-renewal is obviously seriously ill. And in a sick society, welcoming and integrating immigrants can only be problematic4 . The debates acrimony surrounding the Quebec government's recent Quebec Charter of Values project clearly showed the extent of uneasiness regarding immigration among the Quebec population.

A stable and safe environment for children, from birth to adulthood

On the other hand, we already know that most parents of young children do not enter marriage. But the risk estimate of experiencing separation from their parents is 3 to 4 times higher for children of common-law relationship’s parents
5 . That is to say, the majority of our families today are unable to provide a stable and safe environment for our children, including too many even just for the duration of infancy. It's just unacceptable and dramatic. The distress experienced by families struggling with separation of the the parents is immense. The impact on children who find themselves in the midst of these tragedies is very important6 . There is no reason for this situation to continue.

There are no new family models

Many evoke new contemporary models of the family that are emerging. This is an interesting interpretation that omits a fundamental detail. In fact, almost all families embark on this adventure by settling first according to the nuclear model. The improvised solutions to which families later adhere reflect only the confusion and chaos in which they end up after separation.

These are dismantled families

So there is still practically only one model of the family in Western countries: the nuclear family. There is no other model for families settling down. There are only new models for families that are falling apart.

Nuclear Family Growth En V0.1.3

There are only two viable family models: by the father or by the mother

In human history, even though there are several variants, there is practically only one other viable family model. It is the matrilocal family. This model of the family is practiced for example by the Mosuo of China since 2000 years. In their land, it is this model which is a guarantee of family stability and which also guarantees the high quality of relations between men and women. This is the message that IISD sent us by choosing Mosuo as a model community7 .

Sexuality and family do not belong together

What Mosuo tell us is that sex and family do not go along. Our young families great instability is an eloquent proof of this statement. The experience of the Mosuo shows that it is preferable that sexual relations do not belong to the family domain. This is a radical change from the traditional nuclear model of the Western world. But it is a model with proven viability, which is synonymous with harmonious and equitable relationships between men and women.

Matrilocal Family Development En V0.1.2

The child's father and mother can continue to hang out without living together

What is interesting to note here is that the matrilocal family model, by highlighting children's uncles as paternal figures, does not mean that the relationship between the child's mother and its biological father is automatically ephemeral, although this happens quite often. It happens rather often that the relationship between the lovers continues in harmony after the birth of the child, the father visiting his partner regularly (practically every night in fact), possibly also maintaining a link more or less close with the child. We can imagine that many couples, who are now unable to only be in each other's presence, because of the constant wounds of the separation, would have managed to maintain a good relationship, had their families been matrilocal.

An enlarged vertical family

On the other hand, unlike the nuclear model, the matrilocal family is rather vertical and enlarged, with a focus on the maternal line of several generations living in the same place. It is a model that is well suited to help us face the social, economic and environmental challenges that our community will face in the coming decades.

Protecting ourselves from crises by sharing our family resources

First, by allowing several adults to live in the same place, the matrilocal family favors the sharing of their assets among family members. It allows them to maintain or even improve their standard of living, despite the major economic difficulties that may occur at any time.

Continue to operate farms as a family

By concentrating the resources and skills of their many members, the new matrilocal families will quickly attain a high degree of autonomy. It can be anticipated that many of them will be able to maintain farm operations. Agriculture is experiencing very difficult times in Western countries. This is an extremely important heritage of our ancestors. Farms in our countries will undoubtedly be able to count on the support of several large matrilocal families.

Help for seniors and early childhood

Then, as several generations will live in the same place, it will be possible to catalyze family resources for helping seniors and early childhood. As matrilocal families become established, it can be expected that the public system will benefit from increased collaboration with the family circle of beneficiaries. This will result in a gradual reduction of needs and thus reduce the burden on the state.

Share, restore and repair to slow growth

Finally, at the ecological level, the establishment of large matrilocal families will encourage a slowdown in consumption growth. In fact, members of these families living in the same place will spontaneously share, restore and repair several goods. Ultimately, this will make a major contribution to the cleansing of our environment. The growth and spread of the population will be slowed down. It will rather be the size of each family that will fluctuate over time.

The construction industry will be able to adapt

For example, it can be expected that the construction industry will gradually adapt to this sustainable model. First, growth can continue for a while with the creation of new architectural complexes that are better able to meet the needs of matriages. And of course, by transforming existing single-family residences, first by subdividing them into smaller individual units with direct access to the outdoors, and then connecting them with larger community spaces.

Improve the functioning of our society instead of extending it

We will then be able to focus our talents and resources to improve the functioning and collaboration of this set of well-established families, within a network of stable and well-identified entities. Imagine only the whole socio-economic effort that is currently engulfed in the growth and spread of the population, made necessary by the constant creation of new nuclear families. All of this will rather now be used to perfect the way we organize and serve ourselves collectively.

But then, what are the benefits of the nuclear family?

So there is indeed another family model that seems to be able to respond much better to the majority of Western family members’ needs. And even to secure the long-term future of our society. One wonders then: what are the "benefits" of the nuclear family compared to the matrilocal family for Western families? For the moment, we have only identified three:

This family type is easier to move

  • In the event of a cataclysm, it can be an advantage;
    • However, this characteristic must be contrasted with the greater degree of self-sufficiency of the matrilocal family..
  • To meet a new job requirement:
    • In a matrilocal family, nothing prevents one of its members from settling away for a few years;
    • In any case, life jobs are practically non-existent in our contemporary societies.
    • These job requirements are rather more often a cause of nuclear families dismantling when both spouses have geographically distant employment opportunities.

The biological father has rights over the children

  • The matrilocal family does not offer any paternity rights:
    • It does not mean that fathers cannot see their children, on the contrary.
    • If it is desired on both sides, the contribution of fathers will always be welcome:
      • It can be seen as an opportunity or a privilege, which must be seized and deserved.

There is constant creation of new families which generates new consumption needs

  • It was a gold mine at the time of uninterrupted growth economy;
  • Today it is a scourge in this era of an economy requiring sustainability.


1 « Saying that the family is in crisis in an understatement. The turmoil of the institution has thrown its members into a deep disarray that feeds a family pathology whose symptoms are just beginning to appear: domestic violence, parental violence, suicide, dropping out of school, pure parental abandonment, rejuvenation of delinquency and crime, etc. » (loose translation)
Original quote: « C'est peu dire que la famille soit en crise. Le chamboulement de l'institution a jeté ses membres dans un profond désarroi qui nourrit une pathologie familiale dont les symptômes commencent seulement à poindre : violence conjugale, violence parentale, suicide, décrochage scolaire, abandon parental pur et simple, rajeunissement de la délinquance et du crime, etc. » (p. 198)
Daniel Dagenais, La fin de la famille moderne
Les Presses de l'Université Laval, 2000
2 « As the Law Commission suggested in 2001, this model could go beyond conjugality. ... One can think of the brother and sister who live together or the adult child who resides with a sick relative.(loose translation)
« Comme le suggérait en 2001, la Commission du droit, ce modèle pourrait aller au-delà de la conjugalité. On peut songer au frère et à la sœur qui habitent ensemble ou à l'enfant majeur qui réside avec un parent malade. » (p. 416)
Marie Pratte, La situation juridique de la famille de 2020%%%Gilles Pronovost, Chantale Dumont, Isabelle Bitaudeau, La famille à l'horizon 2020%%%Presses de l'université du Québec, 2008, ISBN 978-2-7605-1553-6
4 « In short, demographic facts and projections are real, rather than imaginary, and important, rather than trivial. They would normally cause concern among all human groups. » (loose translation)
Original quote: « Bref, faits et projections démographiques sont bien réels, plutôt qu’imaginaires, et importants, plutôt que triviaux. Ils susciteraient normalement de l’inquiétude au sein de tous groupes humains. »
Michel Paillé, L’immigration au Québec dans un contexte de sous-fécondité chronique (visited June 26th, 2018)
Bulletin d'histoire politique, volume 18, numéro 2 (hiver 2010)
5 « In Quebec, in 2010, there was 45% of divorced couples within married couples of the opposite sex, almost a marital breakdown for two married couples. ... Cohabiting couples are more fragile than married couples, so children from these families are three to four times more likely to see their parents break up (Joyal, et al, 2002). More specifically, the probability of separation is twice as high for common-law women as for married women (Statistics Canada, 2006). » (loose translation)
Original quote: « Au Québec, en 2010, on observe un taux de 45 % de couples divorcés parmi les couples mariés du sexe opposé, soit presque une rupture conjugale pour deux couples mariés. Les couples en cohabitation sont plus fragiles que les couples mariés, de sorte que les enfants issus de ces familles sont trois à quatre fois plus susceptibles de voir leurs parents rompre leur union (Joyal, et.al, 2002). Plus précisément, la probabilité de se séparer serait deux fois plus élevée chez les femmes en union libre que chez les femmes mariées (Statistique Canada, 2006). » (p. 6)
Francine Cyr, Prévalence de la garde partagée chez les familles québécoises ayant un enfant né en 1997-1998 (visited June 28th, 2018)
6 « children whose parents are separated or divorced are more likely than children whose parents live together to experience certain physical health problems, depression, anxiety and other psycho-emotional disorders, to present various behavioral problems externalized, to be less successful in school, to study for a shorter time, and to experience more relationship difficulties. » (loose translation)
Originale quote: «... les enfants dont les parents sont séparés ou divorcés sont plus susceptibles que les enfants dont les parents vivent ensembles d’éprouver certains problèmes de santé physique, de souffrir de dépression, d’anxiété et d’autres désordres psychoaffectifs, de présenter divers problèmes de comportement extériorisés, de réussir moins bien à l’école et de poursuivre des études moins longtemps ainsi que de connaître davantage de difficultés relationnelles. » (p. 1)
Hélène Desrosiers, Jean-François Cardin et Luc Belleau, L’impact de la séparation des parents sur la santé mentale des jeunes enfants (visited June 28th, 2018)
7 Texte original : « For 2,000 years, the Mosuos have maintained a society in which women uphold the integrity and assume leadership roles in the community. 85% of the population are still living under matrilineal family structures where women are heads of households, care for the young and the old, carry the family lineage and distribute wealth and resources with equality. »
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