Pronunciation key

( eks-ogə-mi )
( ek-sogah-me )



[exo- + -gamy].

  1. Often inviolable custom of marriage outside one's social group; tribe, family, clan or blood group; prohibition of a man to marry within his own tribe or clan.
  2. Marriage outside one's tribe, family, clan. Outbreeding, opposed to endogamy.
  3. Biology. Reproduction by the fusion of gametes of different ancestry. Union of gametes of unrelated parents. Protozoan fertilization by union of elements that were not derived from the same cell. Union of two protozoans of different ancestry by fusion of nuclei with commencement of a new growth cycle.

In social sciences exogamy is a term used to denote a body of laws and customs, prevalent among many primitive peoples, which prohibit marriage between members of the same social unit such as village, tribe or family and is the opposite of endogamy, though the two sets of customs are not mutually exclusive and sometimes supplement each other.
The term derives from the Greek X, "outside marriage". It is the societal rule practiced in some cultures that obligates a person to marry a spouse from outside his or her culturally defined group or groups of which he or she is a member and prohibits marriage within the group. Depending on its social structure, a culture may define as exogamous various other groups such as lineage, clan or moiety groups.

Rules determine which marriages are acceptable may vary among cultures and tribes, but typically follow kinship lines or clan groupings. (See KINSHIP). The prohibition of marriage between blood relatives is widespread. Marriage outside the tribe entirely may be required. Exogamous groups sometimes specifying the specific outside group which members must marry. Conversely, marriage outside a specific group may be forbidden, and for this restriction the term endogamy is used; more loosely it applies to a tendency to marry within a group. Endogamy is rare among nonliterate societies, is likely to characterize aristocracies, religious and ethnic minorities in industrialized societies. It is also notable as characteristic of the caste system in India and of class-conscious nonliterate societies such as the Masai of East Africa. The Todas of India practice endogamy between the two main divisions of their tribe, and exogamy among the several clans of each division. An almost universal exogamic prohibition is the ban on incestuous marriages between parents and children or between brothers and sisters.

Exogamy is not limited to marriages among close relatives; in numerous instances, such as the American Indian tribes of northern California, it applies to individuals who inhabit the same village, and whose blood relationship may be conjectural. In such circumstances the practice is termed local exogamy. A more extreme example is found among the Kurnai of Australia whose marriage restrictions are so complex that legal marriage is virtually impossible. Many tribesmen are only capable of marrying by eloping in deliberate violation of the existing prohibitions. If caught before the birth of offspring, the eloping couple are killed in spite of the fact that most members of the tribe were married in the same way.

Exogamy is more characteristic of non-industrialized societies, and typically based on kinship, clan, or moiety (see dual organization) vs. political or territorial lines. Exogamous rules are usually characterized by unilineal descent groups where descent is reckoned either patrilineally or matrilineally, with marriage prohibition only applying to one side of the family. Therefore, some blood relative will inevitably be available for marriage.

Exogamy serves two main functions. Preventing the ill effects of inbreeding and the elimination, from groups such as clans which function cooperatively, of the tensions caused by sexual rivalries.

The practice of exogamy led to marriage by capture and purchase. Traces of these customs are still discernible even in highly civilized societies. The severity of punishment varies from capital punishment to mild disapproval.

The term exogamy was first coined by McLennan whom regarded it as the outcome of female infanticide which, by limiting the number of women available within the group, forced tribesmen to capture their wives from their neighbors however with increased knowledge and facts, this theory became untenable.

See Endogamy; Ethnology; Marriage; Primitive Society (Marriage and Divorce)


  • Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th Edition ©1929
  • The American College Dictionary (Random House) ©1949
  • Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia ©1950
  • Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (College Edition) ©1955
  • The American Peoples Encyclopedia ©1960
  • Collier's Encyclopedia ©1960
  • Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary, Comprehensive International Edition ©1976
  • Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health ©1978
  • Encyclopedia Britannica Micropedia ©1984
  • The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition ©1985
  • Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge ©1991
  • Further Reading

  • Exogamic
  • Exogamous
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