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Social system in which familial and political authority is wielded by women. Under the influence of Charles Darwin's theories of evolution and, particularly, the work of the Swiss anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen (b. 1815, Basel, Switz.d. 1887, Basel), some 19th-century scholars believed that matriarchy followed a stage of general promiscuity and preceded male ascendancy (patriarchy) in human society's evolutionary sequence. Like other elements of the evolutionist view of culture, the notion of matriarchy as a universal stage of development is now generally discredited, and the modern consensus is that a strictly matriarchal society has never existed. Nevertheless, in those societies in which matrilineal descent occurs, access to socially powerful positions is mediated through the maternal line of kin. See alsosociocultural evolution.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on matriarchy, visit Britannica.com.