Difference Between Culture and Ethnicity

Culture and Ethnicity are the two common words that most people find synonymous and use them interchangeably. However, there is a technical and spark difference between these two terms.

Culture vs Ethnicity

The main difference between Culture and Ethnicity is that Culture is a social behavior or customary form followed by people, while Ethnicity is a fact of belonging to a group of people having a common ancestry, food habits, Culture, or physical attributes.

Culture vs Ethnicity

However, the above is not the only difference. A comparison between both the terms on certain parameters can shed light on subtle aspects:


Comparison Table Between Culture and Ethnicity (in Tabular Form)

Parameter of ComparisonCultureEthnicity
MeaningCulture is the social way of behaving amongst human beings. This can include social practices or traditional practices passed on through generations or can include background, habits, etc.Category of people who have some common similarities such as caste, nationality, origin.
How identified?Lifestyle, food habits, customs, ways of social behavior, habits, values, art, music, beliefs, knowledgeReligion, physical appearance, way of dressing
How acquired?By interaction with close ones and societyBy birth
Can be learned or acquired?Yes, because Culture is something which is passed from one generation to other and hence it is more of a learning.No, as Ethnicity is related to certain similarities in people based on caste/nation/physical attributes.
Related to a country?No, but may depend as people from certain countries may have a specific Culture.Yes, this is more to do with the nationality of a person


What is Culture?

Culture means the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group. In simple terms, Culture means the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as habits or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time. Culture also indicates arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

Culture means something which is taught to us and which we have learned from others over some time. Those others indicate those with whom we have close contact hence they remain in a position to leave a deep impact on us. For example, the way of behaving in society varies from person to person and from group to group and this trait is something learned from our near and dear ones since childhood.

Culture is subject to change as people come in contact with other individuals and try to imbibe their practices. This may happen due to an influx of people from one country to another, or competition. For example, in India people have slowly and gradually moved towards western Culture over the last five decades. Cultural ideas and doctrines are prone to shift from one society to another resulting in either removal or replacement of existing cultural mindsets.


What is Ethnicity?

Ethnicity means the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. In other words, it means a social group that has a common Culture or a common language or a common nationality, common diet, or similar aspects. Ethnicity is a collective noun, however, from a singular perspective, Ethnicity denotes an ethnic group.

The ethnicity of a particular person or group is identified by the type of language spoken, preference for food, and physical characteristics. For example, it is easily possible to identify an Indian Punjabi man due to their heavy muscular build, turban, beard and mustaches and their preference for delicious and spicy food. However, Ethnicity may differ from person to person based on their Culture.

Ethnicity also denotes a group belonging to a specific geographic area or living in a certain place. For example, an ethnic group of Assam or Indonesia. Viewed from this perspective, Ethnicity indicates a sense of nationhood where people are having common patterns in lifestyle and similar customs. This can also indicate to mean that people are having common skin color, language, or religion.

Ethnic groups may be further subdivided into smaller and yet distinctive common ethnic subgroups. They may be further categorized into family tribes or clans each of which may have their Ethnicity.

Ethnicity may be subject to negative actions or other restraints by the government of a country. This may so happen in a situation when a particular ethnic group is in a minority in a state. However, from a balanced view perspective, the majority of the countries in this world acknowledge the existence of ethnic groups and strive for their existence and upliftment.

Main Differences Between Culture and Ethnicity

  1. Culture denotes the behavior, lifestyle, customs amongst people. Ethnicity refers to the state or fact of people belonging to a certain group.
  2. Culture is passed from one generation to another. Ethnicity is not passed over from one generation to another.
  3. Culture doesn’t include Ethnicity. Ethnicity includes Culture.
  4. Culture is synonymous with terms such as customs or habits. Ethnicity is similar to terms such a nation or nationality.
  5. Culture may or may not be established by a people speaking a common language. Ethnicity can be established by a sect of people speaking a common language.
  6. Culture can be acquired by learning about other people’s cultures. Ethnicity is difficult to acquire as it is almost impossible to inherit someone else’s physical characteristics or religion.



Culture and Ethnicity though have multiple differences but in this modern technology era it may not matter much. This is because people all over the world are slowly and gradually adapting to new Culture. This is the practice especially when people are travelling boundaries seeking employment and other opportunities and getting imbibed in a new Ethnicity.

Therefore the concept of Culture and Ethnicity and the subtle difference may lose that fine meaning in the coming days and the day may not be far when it may be difficult to establish the original Culture or Ethnicity of a specific person or group.


  1. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2001-00118-006
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