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Ethnic Group

Ethnicity is a multifaceted concept which influences people’s identity, politics, and societal interactions. An ethnic group typically is defined by shared cultural heritage, ancestry, history, homeland, language or dialect, symbolic systems such as religion, mythology, and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, physical appearance, and more [1].

An ethnic group represents a category of people who identify with each other, usually on the basis of presumed similarities such as common ancestry, language, history, society, culture or nation. Ethnicity is often an inherited status, but it can also be adopted, shed, and renegotiated over time.

An ethnic group represents a category of people who identify with each other, usually on the basis of presumed similarities such as common ancestry, language, history, society, culture or nation [2]. Ethnicity is often an inherited status, but it can also be adopted, shed, and renegotiated over time [3].

Components of Ethnic Identity

Cultural Practices

Cultural practices are the foundation of ethnic identity. They include traditions, languages, religious beliefs, and customs passed down through generations [4].

Shared History and Ancestry

Ethnic groups often share a common history and ancestry. This common background helps shape the group’s collective identity and sense of belonging [5].

Geographical Location

Geographical location is also crucial in defining an ethnic group. Often, ethnic groups are associated with specific regions or countries. For instance, the Maori are indigenous to New Zealand, while the Kurds primarily inhabit regions spanning Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria [6].

The Global Distribution of Ethnic Groups

There is a vast diversity of ethnic groups across the globe. As per Ethnologue, a comprehensive reference work cataloging all of the world’s known living languages, there are over 7,000 distinct ethnic groups [7]. Some countries are relatively homogeneous, with a single ethnic group dominating, while others are incredibly diverse.

Table: Top Five Countries with Highest Ethnic Diversity[8]

CountryEthnic Fractionalization Index
Papua New Guinea0.990
Democratic Republic of the Congo0.933

The Ethnic Fractionalization Index represents the probability that two people selected randomly from a country’s population will belong to different ethnic groups. A higher value indicates greater diversity.

The Role of Ethnicity in Society

Ethnicity plays a significant role in society. It can be a source of pride and identity but can also be a basis for social divisions and conflicts. Below are a few roles that ethnicity plays:

Identity Formation

Ethnicity helps individuals develop a sense of self and belonging. It can provide a strong basis for communal solidarity and identity [9].

Political Organization

Ethnicity often influences political organization and mobilization. Ethnic groups can use their shared identity to advocate for rights and resources [10].

Conflict and Tension

On the downside, ethnicity can also lead to conflict. Ethnic differences have been the source of numerous conflicts and wars throughout history, such as the Rwandan genocide and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict [11].

The Sociocultural Aspect of Ethnicity

The study of ethnicity and ethnic groups is deeply intertwined with sociology and anthropology. Ethnicity is regarded as a social construct, not merely a biological or genetic characteristic [12]. It’s about shared cultural norms, traditions, beliefs, and practices, which bind people together into communities. This shared culture becomes an important source of identity, pride, and solidarity for group members.


Language is often a defining feature of ethnic groups, providing not just a medium for communication, but also a symbol of collective identity and cultural continuity. It’s not unusual for an ethnic group to have its unique language, which could be entirely different or a dialect of a more widely spoken language [13].


Religion is another defining feature of many ethnic groups. It plays a significant role in shaping cultural practices, norms, and values. While some ethnic groups may share the same religious beliefs, their practices and interpretations of these beliefs can vary widely [14].

Ethnicity and Race: Understanding the Difference

Although ‘ethnicity’ and ‘race’ are often used interchangeably, they denote different concepts. Race typically refers to large groups of people classified based on shared physical and genetic traits. In contrast, ethnicity is about cultural factors, including language, religion, and traditional practices [15].

Implications for Policymaking

Understanding ethnicity is crucial for policymakers, particularly in multiethnic societies. It can help in the creation of inclusive policies that consider the unique needs and circumstances of various ethnic groups. Policymakers can use this understanding to promote social integration, equality, and justice, while also respecting cultural diversity [16].

Future Directions

In an increasingly globalized world, the dynamics of ethnicity continue to evolve. Ethnic boundaries are becoming more fluid, with growing interethnic marriages and the rise of multicultural societies. Future studies on ethnicity will need to capture these changing dynamics, and societies will need to adapt to accommodate the increasing diversity.


In conclusion, ethnic groups are an integral part of human societies, offering a sense of identity, belonging, and communal solidarity. However, they can also be a source of conflict and tension. Understanding ethnic groups and the dynamics they create is vital for promoting peaceful coexistence, social justice, and mutual understanding among diverse populations.


[1] Fearon, J. D. (2003). “Ethnic and Cultural Diversity by Country”. Journal of Economic Growth. 8 (2): 195–222.

[2] Smith, A. D. (1987). The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Oxford: Blackwell.

[3] Jenkins, R. (2008). Rethinking Ethnicity: Arguments and Explorations. SAGE Publications.

[4] Phinney, J. S. (1990). “Ethnic identity in adolescents and adults: Review of research”. Psychological Bulletin. 108 (3): 499–514.

[5] Shils, E. (1957). “Primordial, Personal, Sacred and Civil Ties”. British Journal of Sociology. 8 (2): 130–145.

[6] Barth, F. (1969). Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference. Boston: Little, Brown.

[7] Ethnologue (23rd ed., 2020). “Summary by language size”. SIL International.

[8] Alesina, A., Devleeschauwer, A., Easterly, W., Kurlat, S., & Wacziarg, R. (2003). Fractionalization. Journal of Economic Growth, 8, 155-194.

[9] Phinney, J. S. (1996). “Understanding ethnic diversity: The role of ethnic identity”. The American Behavioral Scientist. 40 (2): 143–152.

[10] Horowitz, D. L. (1985). Ethnic Groups in Conflict. University of California Press.

[11] Kaufmann, E. (2004). “Dominant ethnicity and dominant nationhood”. In Kaufmann, E. (ed.). Rethinking Ethnicity: Majority Groups and Dominant Minorities. Routledge.

[12] Smedley, A., & Smedley, B. D. (2005). “Race as biology is fiction, racism as a social problem is real: Anthropological and historical perspectives on the social construction of race”. American Psychologist, 60(1), 16-26.

[13] Grenoble, L. A. (2011). “Language ecology and endangerment”. In Austin, P. K.; Sallabank, J. (eds.). The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages. Cambridge University Press.

[14] Glock, C. Y. (1972). “On the Study of Religious Commitment”. Religious Education, 57(s1), 98-110.

[15] Morning, A. (2011). “The Racial Self-Identification of South Asians in the United States”. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 37(9), 1473–1490.

[16] Reitz, J. G. (2002). “Host Societies and the Reception of Immigrants: Research Themes, Emerging Theories and Methodological Issues”. International Migration Review, 36(4), 1005–1019.

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