Difference Between Race and Ethnicity

The terms race and ethnicity are used to define or refer to a certain stereotypical category of people on the basis of different biological and social factors, respectively.

Race vs Ethnicity

The main difference between race and ethnicity is that the former term is used for recognizing a certain type of people and put them in the same category based on the same physical traits that they possess, whereas the latter term is used to refer to a community of people who possess the same type of sociological factors like common national, culture, language, etc.

Race vs Ethnicity

Race is a term used to divide a community or population of people who have a common type of physical characteristics like complexion, eye colour, skin texture, hair, and more such factors like that.

Ethnicity is a term used to divide a community or section of the population who share a common type of social factors like nationality, culture, language, and more such factors like that.

Comparison Table Between Race and Ethnicity

Parameters of ComparisonRaceEthnicity
DefinitionRace means dividing people into groups on basis of physical traits.Ethnicity refers to a certain community in which members have common nationality or culture.
GenealogyDivided because of shared genealogy due to geographical isolation.Defined in terms of shared genealogy, can be presumed or actual.
ConceptRace is a narrow term.Ethnicity is a broader term.
OriginDerived from the Italian word razza.Derived from the word ethnic.
Year of originEmerged around the year 1490-1500.Emerged around the year 1765-1775.

What is Race?

The term race, as discussed above, refers to the concept of segregating a section of the population on the basis of various physical characteristics like complexion, eye color, skin texture, and more such traits.

The concept of race originated from various anthropologists and philosophers in the 18th century who used to divide people into groups on the factors of physical traits.

The main factor of dividing people into different races is based on the complexion, which is known as “white,” “black,” “brown.”

Talking about the brown racial group, it is another race divided on the basis of skin tone and those whose origin is Indian.

What is Ethnicity?

The term ethnicity, as discussed above, refers to the concept of segregating a section of the population on the basis of various sociological aspects like nationality, cultural habits, origin, religion, and more such factors.

For example, if a person’s race is black, their ethnicity can be American, or if a person is white, then their ethnicity may be Irish.

Then there is religion-based segregation such as Jewish, Irish, and many more. Within a particular ethnicity, there may exist many subgroups also which can be a mix of two types or any other deriving community.

During the last decades of the 20th century, the legal system and the official ideology of many countries, along with the U.S., prohibited ethnicity-based discrimination and enforced the equality law. 

Main Differences Between Race and Ethnicity

  1. The term race in English was borrowed from the French word race, which itself was derived from the Italian word “razza,” whose meaning is “kind, breed, lineage,” whereas the word ethnicity was derived from the word ethnic.
  2. The term race first emerged around the year 1490-1500, and on the other hand, the term ethnicity emerged around the year 1765-1775.
Difference Between Race and Ethnicity


Both the terms race and ethnicity are used interchangeably, but theoretically, the terms have distinct meanings which cannot be interchangeably used with others.

As the term race specifically denotes the dividing of people on the basis of their physical traits, which are always displayed, either in a lesser or greater degree, whereas the term ethnicity specifically refers to the categorizing of people based on their social aspect, which can either be displayed or hidden.

Ethnicity can be adopted or changed at any time, unlike race which cannot be manipulated. Both the terms are often used to enforce dominance or to differentiate a minority community.


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304395901004080
  2. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science/article/race-ethnicity-and-political-resources-participation-in-the-united-states/4C2E6F85CB23F61225E6FFC98C88C816
  3. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-7717.00111
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