Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Adaptive Benefits of Matriliny and “Walking Marriages” in Mosuo Culture

  • Jose C. YongEmail author
  • Amanda M. Yeo
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_3843-1



Arguably the last known surviving matrilineal tribe in China, the Mosuo offers interesting insights into familial and mating arrangements to support reproduction.


Due to its unconventional relationship norms and family structure, the Mosuo tribe is typically seen as a sociocultural puzzle. The evolutionary perspective, however, assumes that social structures that can exist or have existed are likely to be functional and supported by adaptations that enable their sustained functioning. Therefore, the Mosuo pose an interesting case study of alternative reproductive arrangements and elucidate the evolutionary motives facilitated by such arrangements. More specifically, Mosuo practices can work because they enable the Mosuo to overcome a variety of adaptive problems typically faced by individuals in more conventional pair-bonded relationships. In this entry, we describe the features of the...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Buss, D. M. (1988). The evolution of human intrasexual competition: Tactics of mate attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(4), 616–628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Buss, D. M., & Barnes, M. (1986). Preferences in human mate selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 559–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cai, H. (2001). A society without fathers or husbands: The Na of China. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  4. Dawson, K. (2018). Sweet, sweet fantasy: Searching for a land where women rule. Refinery29. Retrieved 25 Apr 2019 from https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2018/12/219079/mosuo-women-rule-matriarchal-society-china-photos
  5. Geary, D. C. (2005). Evolution of paternal investment. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), The evolutionary psychology handbook (pp. 483–505). Hoboken: Wiley.Google Scholar
  6. Goetz, A. T., Shackelford, T. K., Romero, G. A., Kaighobadi, F., & Miner, E. J. (2008). Punishment, proprietariness, and paternity: Men’s violence against women from an evolutionary perspective. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 13, 481–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Grammer, K. (1989). Human courtship behaviour: Biological basis and cognitive processing. In A. Rasa, C. Vogel, & E. Voland (Eds.), Sociobiology of sexual and reproductive strategies (pp. 147–169). London: Chapman & Hall.Google Scholar
  8. Hamilton, W. D. (1964). The genetical evolution of social behaviour, I and II. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7(1/16), 17–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Herlihy, D. (1995). Biology and history: The triumph of monogamy. Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 24, 571–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Holden, C. J., Sear, R., & Mace, R. (2003). Matriliny as daughter-biased investment. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24(2), 99–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kanazawa, S. (2007). The evolutionary psychological imagination: Why you can’t get a date on a Saturday night and why most suicide bombers are Muslim. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 1(2), 7–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Li, N. P., & Kenrick, D. T. (2006). Sex similarities and differences in preferences for short-term mates: What, whether, and why. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(3), 468–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Li, N. P., & Yong, J. C. (2018). Sexual conflict in mating strategies. In T. K. Shackelford & V. Weekes-Shackelford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of evolutionary psychological science. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  14. Mattison, S. (2011). Evolutionary contributions to solving the “matrilineal puzzle”: A test of Holden, Sear, and Mace’s model. Human Nature, 22, 64–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Pillsworth, E. G., & Haselton, M. G. (2005). The evolution of coupling. Psychological Inquiry, 16(2–3), 98–104.Google Scholar
  16. Ronay, R., & von Hippel, W. (2010). The presence of an attractive woman elevates testosterone and physical risk taking in young men. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1, 57–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sell, A. N. (2011). The recalibrational theory and violent anger. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 16, 381–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Shaitlyn, S. (2010). Is China’s Mosuo tribe the world’s last matriarchy? The Guardian. Retrieved 25 Apr 2019 from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/dec/19/china-mosuo-tribe-matriarchy
  19. Shih, C.-K. (2010). Quest for harmony: The Moso traditions of sexual union and family life. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Soulliere, E. (1988). The imperial marriages of the Ming Dynasty. Papers on Far Eastern History, 37, 15–42.Google Scholar
  21. Symons, D. (1979). The evolution of human sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Thomas, M. G., Ji, T., Wu, J.-J., He, Q.-Q., Tao, Y., & Mace, R. (2018). Kinship underlies costly cooperation in Mosuo villages. Royal Society Open Science, 5, 171535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tooke, W., & Camire, L. (1991). Patterns of deception in intersexual and intrasexual mating strategies. Ethology and Sociobiology, 12, 345–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Trivers, R. L. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. Nature, 112, 164–190.Google Scholar
  25. Trivers, R. L., & Willard, D. E. (1973). Natural selection of parental ability to vary the sex ratio of offspring. Science, 179, 90–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Walsh, E. R. (2005). From Nü to Nü’er Guo: Negotiating desire in the land of the Mosuo. Modern China, 31(4), 448–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wen, B., Shi, H., Ren, L., Xi, H., Li, K., Zhang, W., Su, B., Si, S., Jin, L., & Xiao, C. (2004). The origin of Mosuo people as revealed by mtDNA and Y chromosome variation. Science in China Series C: Life Sciences, 47(1), 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Wilkinson, R. D., & Pickett, K. (2009). The spirit level: Why more equal societies almost always do better. London: Allen Lane/Penguin Group.Google Scholar
  29. Williams, G. C. (1966). Adaptation and natural selection. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (1985). Competitiveness, risk taking, and violence: The young male syndrome. Ethology and Sociobiology, 6(1), 59–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Yong, J. C., & Li, N. P. (2018). The adaptive functions of jealousy. In H. C. Lench (Ed.), The function of emotions: When and why emotions help us (pp. 121–140). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Yong, J. C., Li, N. P., Jonason, P. K., & Tan, Y. W. (2019). East Asian low marriage and birth rates: The role of life history strategy, culture, and social status affordance. Personality and Individual Differences, 141, 127–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.Curtin UniversitySydneyAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Todd K. Shackelford
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyOakland UniversityRochesterUSA