Extensive mark–recapture data from banner-tailed kangaroo rats, Dipodomys spectabilis, have shown that both males and females are highly philopatric and suggest the possibility of close inbreeding. However, indirect analyses based on genetic structure appear to contradict direct observations, suggesting longer dispersal distances. Using microsatellite genotypes from most members of a banner-tailed kangaroo rat population during five successive breeding seasons, we ask how relatedness is influenced by dispersal and how it in turn influences mating patterns. The data confirm that, because of philopatry, neighbours are often close relatives. However, patterns of parentage also show that the average distance between mates is large relative to natal dispersal distances and larger than the average distance between nearest opposite-sexed neighbours. Females’ mates were often not their nearest male neighbour and many were less related than the nearest male neighbour. We detected multiple paternity in some females’ litters; both sexes produce offspring with multiple mates within and between breeding seasons. At the population level, heterozygosities were high and estimates of F were low, indicating that levels of inbreeding were low. Using individual inbreeding coefficients of all juveniles to estimate their parents’ relatedness, we found that parental relatedness was significantly lower than relatedness between nearest opposite-sexed adult neighbours. Thus in philopatric populations, long breeding forays can cause genes to move further than individuals disperse, and polyandry may serve to reduce relatedness between mates.