Marriage, Family and kinship

Ethnic Lao partners have a considerable degree of freedom in choosing a spouse, although there is some preference for cousins. Parents may propose a potential spouse and must be consulted about potential marriage partners. A payment like a bride-price is made, and its value varies considerably. The marriage ceremony usually takes place in the bride's family home. At the center of the ritual is a spirit-calling ceremony. Groups were allowed before 1975, when they were outlawed, and reemerged unofficially in the 1990s. Divorce can be initiated by either party and is not uncommon. Among patrilineal groups, parents play a much more active role in choosing spouses for their children. Among the Hmong, there has been some practice of so-called marriage by capture. Residence in these cases is patrilocal. Polygyny is found among some highland groups.

Domestic Unit.
A tendency toward matrilocality among ethnic Lao means that the main house at the center of a group of related women almost always contains a stem family. The oldest daughter and her husband move out after the marriage of the next daughter but try to live nearby or in the same compound. The main house usually is inherited by the youngest daughter, who is responsible for the care of aging parents. The proximity of nuclear households and their continued relationship with the main house creates the appearance of a modified extended family. However, these new units move eventually, separate from the original main house and become main houses. Among highland patrilineal groups, there are large houses containing extended families of related brothers, while in the southern highlands, there are extended families of related women. Men generally are recognized as the household head for religious and political purposes.

Aside from the inheritance of the main house by the youngest daughter among ethnic Lao, inheritance tends to be equal between sons and daughters. Residential practices determine what is inherited, with those moving away, most often sons, selling land to their sisters or leaving it in their care. The passing on of a house and productive land signals the passing of authority from one generation to another. Jewelry and woven cloth pass from mothers to daughters. Among patrilineal highlanders, houses and land, if they are held by residentially stable groups, are passed through sons, usually the eldest, while daughters are given a substantial dowry.

Kin Groups
Kinship among the Lao is reckoned bilaterally, and there is little genealogical consciousness beyond two generations except among the former aristocracy. Patrilineal clans and lineages can be found among the Hmong, Iu Mien, Khmu, and others; these clans are exogamous.