Document Type

Encyclopedia Entry

Publication Date



Anthropology | Sociology


Kinship is a term used broadly in the social sciences, particularly in anthropology, to mean the web of social relationships that make up families. It is a useful framework for thinking about changes over the life span because people’s roles within their families and social networks change as they age and as the social, political, and economic contexts in which they live shift. There are three main concepts that help to explain the importance of kinship across the life span: Kinship is created through practice, kinship is processual, and kinship is inherently flexible. This entry provides a brief history of kinship studies, explores each of these three concepts, explains how they are relevant to understanding the life-span perspective, and provides illustrative examples.


Originally published in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Lifespan Human Development by SAGE Publicatons. DOI: