How many major races are there in the world?

The word “race,” denoting lineage, comes from a French translation of haras (silent “h”) into the Italian razza — which in Italian of that time applied to animals, not people. This points to current English and Italian usage being derived and adapted, respectively, from the French.

A human race is defined as a group of people with certain common inherited features that distinguish them from other groups of people. All men of whatever race are currently classified by the anthropologist or biologist as belonging to the one species, Homo sapiens.This is another way of saying that the differences between human races are not great, even though they may appear so, i.e. black vs white skin. All races of mankind in the world can interbreed because they have so much in common. All races share 99.99+% of the same genetic materials which means that division of race is largely subjective, and that the original 3-5 races were also probably just subjective descriptions as well.

The Major Divisions of the Human Race

Most anthropologists recognize 3 or 4 basic races of man in existence today. These races can be further subdivided into as many as 30 subgroups.

Ethnographic division into races from Meyers Konversationslexikon of 1885-90 is listing:

  • Caucasian races (Aryans, Hamites, Semites)
  • Mongolian races (northern Mongolian, Chinese and Indo-Chinese, Japanese and Korean, Tibetan, Malayan, Polynesian, Maori, Micronesian, Eskimo, American Indian),
  • Negroid races (African, Hottentots, Melanesians/Papua, “Negrito”, Australian Aborigine, Dravidians, Sinhalese)

Skull: Dolicephalic(Long-Head),High forehead,Little supraobital development.
Face: Mainly Leptoproscopic( Narrow)Sometimes Meso- or even Euryproscopic, Neither Facial nor alveolar prognathism occurs except among some archaic peoples.
Nose:Long,narrow,high in both root and bridge.

Skull: High incidence of Brachycephaly(Short Round Head)
American Indians while Mongoloid are often Dolicephalic.
Foreheads slightly lower than that of the Caucasoid.
No Supraobital development.
Face: Wide and short, projecting cheek bones, Prognathism rare. Shovel shaped incisors common especialy in Asia.
Nose: Mesorine(Low and Broad in both root and bridge.

Skull: usually Dolicephalic, a small minority are Brachycephalic.
Forehead most often high, little supraobital development.
Face: Leproscopic (to a much lesser degree than the Caucasion), Prognathism common in most Negro populations.
Nose: Low & broad in root and bridge with characteristic depression at root.

Another popular division recognizes 4 major races

The world population can be divided into 4 major races, namely white/Caucasian, Mongoloid/Asian, Negroid/Black, and Australoid. This is based on a racial classification made by Carleton S. Coon in 1962. There is no universally accepted classification for “race”, however, and its use has been under fire over the last few decades. The United Nations, in a 1950 statement, opted to “drop the term ‘race’ altogether and speak of “ethnic groups”. In this case, there are more than 5,000 ethnic groups in the world, according to a 1998 study published in the Scientific American.

What is Race?

What is Race? When some people use the “race” they attach a biological meaning, still others use “race” as a socially constructed concept.  It is clear that even though race does not have a biological meaning, it does have a social meaning which has been legally constructed.

Biological Construction

By . . .”biological race,” I mean the view of race espoused by Judge Tucker, and still popular today, that there exist natural, physical divisions among humans that are hereditary, reflected in morphology, and roughly but correctly captured by terms like Black, White, and Asian (or Negroid, Caucasoid, and Mongoloid). Under this view, one’s ancestors and epidermis ineluctably determine membership in a genetically defined racial group. The connection between human physiognomy and racial status is concrete; in Judge Tucker’s words, every individual’s race has been “stampt” by nature. . . .Despite the prevalent belief in biological races, overwhelming evidence proves that race is not biological. Biological races like Negroid and Caucasoid simply do not exist. A newly popular argument among several scholars, is that races are wholly illusory, whether as a biological or social concept. Under this thinking, if there is no natural link between faces and races, then no connection exists.

There are no genetic characteristics possessed by all Blacks but not by non- Blacks; similarly, there is no gene or cluster of genes common to all Whites but not to non-Whites. One’s race is not determined by a single gene or gene cluster, as is, for example, sickle cell anemia. Nor are races marked by important differences in gene frequencies, the rates of appearance of certain gene types. The data compiled by various scientists demonstrates, contrary to popular opinion, that intra-group differences exceed inter-group differences. That is, greater genetic variation exists within the populations typically labeled Black and White than between these populations. This finding refutes the supposition that racial divisions reflect fundamental genetic differences.

Notice this does not mean that individuals are genetically indistinguishable from each other, or even that small population groups cannot be genetically differentiated. Small populations, for example the Xhosa or the Basques, share similar gene frequencies. However, differentiation is a function of separation, usually geographic, and occurs in gradations rather than across fractures.. .. . .   The notion that humankind can be divided along White, Black, and Yellow lines reveals the social rather than the scientific origin of race. The idea that there exist three races, and that these races are “Caucasoid,” “Negroid,” and “Mongoloid,” is rooted in the European imagination of the Middle Ages, which encompassed only Europe, Africa, and the Near East.. . Nevertheless, the history of science has long been the history of failed efforts to justify these social beliefs. Along the way, various minds tried to fashion practical human typologies along the following physical axes: skin color, hair texture, facial angle, jaw size, cranial capacity, brain mass, frontal lobe mass, brain surface fissures and convolutions, and even body lice. As one scholar notes, “[t]he nineteenth century was a period of exhaustive and–as it turned out–futile search for criteria to define and describe race differences.”. . . Attempts to define racial categories by physical attributes ultimately failed. By 1871, some leading intellectuals had recognized that even using the word “race” “was virtually a confession of ignorance or evil intent.” The genetic studies of the last few decades have only added more nails to the coffin of biological race. Evidence shows that those features usually coded to race, for example, stature, skin color, hair texture, and facial structure, do not correlate strongly with genetic variation. . .  The rejection of race in science is now almost complete. In the end, we should embrace historian Barbara Fields’s succinct conclusion with respect to the plausibility of biological races: “Anyone who continues to believe in race as a physical attribute of individuals, despite the now commonplace disclaimers of biologists and geneticists, might as well also believe that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy are real, and that the earth stands still while the sun moves.”

. . .  Unfortunately, few in this society seem prepared to fully relinquish their subscription to notions of biological race.. . .[including the] Congress and the Supreme Court. Congress’ anachronistic understanding of race is exemplified by a 1988 statute that explains that “the term ‘racial group’ means a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of physical characteristics or biological descent.”  The Supreme Court, although purporting to sever race from biology, also seems incapable of doing so. In Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, the Court determined that an Arab could recover damages for racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. . . Despite a seeming rejection of biological race, Justice White [stated]:  “The Court of Appeals was thus quite right in holding that § 1981, ‘at a minimum,’ reaches discrimination against an individual ‘because he or she is genetically part of an ethnically and physiognomically distinctive subgrouping of homo sapiens.”‘. . . By adopting the lower court’s language of genetics and distinctive subgroupings, Justice White demonstrates the Court’s continued reliance on blood as a metonym for race. . . .In Metrobroadcasting v. FCC,  Justice Scalia again reveals the Court’s understanding of race as a matter of blood. During oral argument, Scalia attacked the argument that granting minorities broadcasting licenses would enhance diversity by blasting “the policy as a matter of ‘blood,’ at one point charging that the policy reduced to a question of ‘blood . . .  blood, not background and environment.”‘

Social Construction

. . .  I define a “race” as a vast group of people loosely bound together by historically contingent, socially significant elements of their morphology and/or ancestry. I argue that race must be understood as a sui generis social phenomenon in which contested systems of meaning serve as the connections between physical features, races, and personal characteristics. In other words, social meanings connect our faces to our souls. Race is neither an essence nor an illusion, but rather an ongoing, contradictory, self-reinforcing process subject to the macro forces of social and political struggle and the micro effects of daily decisions. . . Referents of terms like Black, White, Asian, and Latino are social groups, not genetically distinct branches of humankind.


  1. inca says

    scientists have found that the gene “oca2” , is responsible for all of eye color, blue, green , hazel, brown, and all varied colors.. in nearly 3/4 of people…. It is located on chromosone 15 ….There is no “dominant black gene”, this is a long believed myth….There are genes for eye color, skin color , and also hair color….Up untill 6 to 10,000 years ago, all humans had brown eyes. A mutation in the oca2 gene back around that time caused the gene to fail to create a protein which in turn produced the melanin in the eyes….. Most of the time this protein was still produced by the protein enzyme made by gene oca2, and so these persons were born with light , or blue eyes. In rare cases, there was a mutation on gene oca2 which caused the cells to produce , “NO” protein that causes the cells to create melanin to color the iris’s of the eye’s, and the people who were born with this rare mutation are called albinos…..So rather than a dominant black gene for black eye, skin, hair color, and hair texture, the oca2 gene on chromozone 15 produces brown eyes in all races… what’s interesting is that this same gene dictates whether the child will have blue, green, hazel , or any color between blue, gray, to dk. brown. Therefore there is no dominant black gene. The oca2 gene may , or not create the protein which causes the cells to produce melanin, for all shades of skin, or eye colors… so, Around 8 genes determine eye color , and some of the other genes play a part in what eye color a baby is born with..Blue eyes have the least melanin, green eyes have a little more , then hazel, then the brown shades have the most melanin.Almost 10 % of brown eyed individuals who had the oca2 for brown eyes , actually were born with blue eyes…. there are a few more genes which can cause a baby with the oca2 gene for brown eyes to develope blue , green, gray , blue/green, hazel shades to brown shades, This explains how two parents, both with blue eyes , can have children with green, hazel and brown eyes while neither parents had enough protien produced by the gene to create enough melanin for them to be born with any other color of eyes , together, they both had enough protein produced by the genes to have children with green, hazel and brown eyes.Scientists now say that it is a myth that two parents with blue eyes cannot produce children with hazel and brown shades of eyes.Scientists also now say that the belief that two parents with brown eyes cannot produce children with blue , or green eyes also is a myth.As long as the parents both carry the mutated gene for light eyes , which is the gene for brown eyes also, the child of two parents with brown eyes can have children with blue/ green eyes…Another believed myth is that if one parent has brown eyes , and the other parent has blue eyes , the children will all be born with brown eyes because of the brown dominant gene…This is a myth, that even scientists used to believe, but no longer do…. While the child may carry the 0ca2 gene for brown eyes , the combined genes that also influence eye color can cancel it out , and the child can be born with blue, or green eyes…Or if the parents both have the genes for brown eyes , but carry any recessive genes from relatives , or distant relatives on both of their sides , they can have a blue/ or green eyed child …So, it doesn’t matter what color of eyes the parents have all the time. what matters is whether they both carry the mutated form of the gene oca2 which cauces the cells not to produce enough of the proteins ( enzymes) for the cells to create the melanin neede to produced brown eyes … Again, there is no black gene for african American traits and features…..There is the oca2 gene on chromosone 15 which controls the color of the eyes , blue to dk. brown…and 6 or 7 other genes which can , in some cases influence the eye color. a child carrying a gene , or genes for brown eyes can be born with blue eyes because other genes canceled out the gene which was for brown eyes…so , in the end , children’s eye color , and hair , skin tones depend more on the genes their parents are carrying ,and the combined genes from both parents , than their parent’s eye coloring.Above taken from latest scientific reports, can be found on internet…( also type in genetics of eye color … genetics of hair color… genetics of hair texture , genetics of skin color , or skin tone…Scientists now say there are no black genes , or white genes, most variation of eye , skin , and hair colors / tones stem from genes which control the amout of a protein/ enzyme that produces melanin ,which , in turn, colors the iris of the eye , the skin, and hair…

  2. Tin Lizzie says

    Adam was red, like red clay. Presumably Eve was a similar color. From their genes, a complete rainbow of peoples were born. When Noah built the ark, he took his three sons and their three wives. These three wives were a random selection of the colors from Adam and Eve. One might have been blond and blue eyed, one yellow with straight dark hair and almond eyes and the third with rich dark skin, curly hair and deep brown eyes. All were undoubtedly beautiful.

    I look like my mother and father and you look like yours. That is an indisputable fact of life, but it does not make me inferior or superior to you. That idea did not come from the Bible, (when Noah cursed Canaan, he did not curse all of the sons of Ham, only Canaan, who may have been the result of Ham raping his own mother while his father was drunk… and hence not even dark-skinned). The idea of superiority of some races came to us through Darwin. “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” The dark secret of the original popularity of his ideas is “social Darwinism”, a “scientific” rationale for racism.

  3. veras veras says

    HAMITES AND SHEMITES were a black people, so were adam and eve,,,you cannot get a black dominant gene out of a recessive white gene,,,this is deception at it’s highest,,,agenda motivated lies,,,,anyone who took basic genetics in grammar school would know this science is bogus,,,let’s all get a grip hear and be desirous of truth and extinquish the deception that has been our food for centuries

  4. Keith daCald says

    I think the conclusion the article means to convey is that – although “we” (the lay people if you will) will continue to think and use “race” as a term to describe – usually – those who are different from one another in an obvious physical way (skin color being the most obvious and the feature almost always seized upon by those who wish to denigrate others by the actions of a few) *BUT* when it comes to actually trying to define Race as something with a factual, scientific (i.e. clearly defined) basis- that it simply doesn’t exist. In other words, ask someone white or black to explain what someone down the street is racially = no problem. Ask a genetic lab to list out the defined characteristics of what strictly makes up a “white” race person versus a “black” race person and it’s impossible – some “white” people will have characteristics that are “black” and vice/versa, still others may be mulatto/mixed to where there simply is no black or white but a creamy mocha color of skin. :-) I hope that makes sense – and that regardless of the prejudices people of many races have toward others, that really we are indeed all just members of the Human SPECIES. Or Human Race. Same difference, in that we are all different in some way, and alike in others. Too bad we don’t have the gene to be exclusively nice to one another all the time! :-) :-)

    • Francisco says

      I believe there are 4 major races….The natives of the Americas, Negroid, Mongoloid, and Caucasian. It is as clear as day, people just refuse to believe because they get a little uncomfortable on the subject. I believe climate was a factor in all of this, the same way it is in different species of animals. I don’t mean to offend anyone with my comment, but I truly believe this.

  5. Richard Cypher says

    If race is a social construct, why do forensic anthropologists go through so much trouble to identify the race of both victims and pepetrators of crimes particularly murder and rape?

  6. Toscanaccio says

    I am baffled by all this ignorance… Who is asserting that the word “RAZZA” (Race) in Italian language is exclusively used for animals ???

  7. OG says

    Biblically speaking, it is hard to be clear who was of what race. The use of “race” as ethnicity or nationality is quite common in the Bible. However, I will say this. It is pretty much an accepted scientific fact that the first “people” on the face of the earth where African (Black, Negroid, whatever).

    As time on earth progressed, skin and hair color got lighter. Noses got thinner. Hair got straighter. Light skin, hair & eyes are all recessive traits. Meaning that 2 people with these traits will NEVER produce offspring with the dominant trait (example: 2 people with blue eyes will never have a child with brown eyes). This is because in order to produce brown eyes, one or both parents MUST have brown eyes (The dominant trait). Hence all “races” MUST have descended from the “Black” race. This fact is also backed by fossil records.

    Just another factor to plug into the Biblical discussion… And in case you are wondering, I am an African-American, Christian, with a degree in science.

    • Denise says

      Only because that is the oldest body they have dug up, so far. They have been wrong every time. They used to believe the world was flat too.

  8. Shel says

    I think human beings are simply variations of the same symphony. We’re all the same species and whatever phenotype we possess doesn’t negate that fact.

  9. John Jediny says

    There is one more race to be considered The Jews Le me show you what the Bible
    Why does God love the Jews.
    Remember Noah and the flood and his three sons; Shem, Ham, Japheth.
    Well Abraham came from the linage of Sham.
    Abraham and God were no strangers,
    Gen 12:1-3. Now the Lord had said unto Abram. Get thee out of thy country,
    and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will
    shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee and
    make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that
    bless thee, and curse him that cursed thee, and in thee shall all families
    of the earth be blessed.
    Abraham & Hagar had a son Ishmael,
    Gen 16:16. And Abram was 86 years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram.
    So it wasn’t Abraham’s seed that God was after.
    So what was it that God wanted,
    Sera was 90 years old and could not bear any children.
    Gen 17:17 and shall Sara, that is ninety years old, bear?

    Now stay with me here it comes
    Gen 21:1-2 AND the Lord visited Serah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Serah Conceived,
    and bare Abraham a son ( Isaac) in his
    old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him .
    My Comment It is here, that the Lord Gave Serah an Egg, an egg of his own choosing.
    Now you see why he has done everything for them that’s in the Bible and the
    Bible (old testament) is about them.

    Gen 25:17 Ishmael lived 127 years. Ishmael was 13 or 14 years older then Isaac.
    Gen 23:1 Serah lived to be 127.
    Isaac was about between 9 and 19 when the trial sacrifice took place.
    So why did the Lord God say to Abraham “thy son, thy only son” Gen 22:12&16

    From the above can you see hat the Lord God Started a new Race withe the Jews?
    There are many races on earth Beside the Jews, But only the Jews have a rich
    written history. And when Jesus cane along he sad LET ALL COME TO ME.
    Unfortunately The Jews didn’t come. What’s even more unfortunate is that
    they are all going to be Slaughtered except for a remnant, Rom 9:27.
    “Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved :” ‘ Esaias =Isaiah.’
    Romans 9:27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a rem
    I didn’t say this the Bible did. Are you still withe me?


    [email protected]
    Sub: Why does God Love the Jews

  10. JGibson says

    you folks referring to Adam and Eve as if they were real must be the comic relief.

    Sadly, the joke is so old it rarely incites laughter anymore.

  11. Muirghein says

    Most Anthropologists do not agree that race exists – it’s a social construction created uniquely within difference societies.

  12. says

    I have the blood of many races running through my veins. I have known hundreds of individuals from all the races on Earth. I see no point in being occupied by race/s. All Blood Is Red! We are all One/Sixth cousins.

  13. Jamie Dodge says

    It is my understanding that most anthropologists now accept that race is a social concept as well. The American Anthropological Association issue their statement about race in 1998 (, so surely new anthropologists coming through the ranks will have been taught this.

  14. Allan Tan says

    Interesting article. I wonder how these differences came about? If the Bible is true and the original couple of Adam and Eve were white, then how did the humans of other colors come about?

    • Macca says

      Sorry but to my mind physical racial characteristics are definitely down to the human genome .Social aspects are learnt so eg there are many “Asian” looking people who speak with broad local accents !

    • Andrew G says

      Where exactly does the bible ever describe Adam and Eve as being White or of any color? We do know that Jesus is described as having feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace. We also know He was Jewish and therefore had features of someone from the Middle Eastern region and these are some of the oldest living societies on earth. So again I ask, how did you conclude Adam and Eve were White?

      • prajwal says

        Since the jews are white, and they trace their lineage to Adam and Eve, it means Adam and Eve were white.

        • John says

          The “races” are explained in the bible in Genesis 11:5-8 where god pretty much scattered everyone across the earth, and changed their appearances and speech so that humankind could never be “one” again.

    • Elizabeth Cruz says

      I believe enviromental circumstances are what changed our skin and features. Those exposed to direct sunlight over thousands of years had darker skin than those who lived in colder climates.

      • mandy says

        exactly what i believe, thanks very much. :) besides, every single person is different thats what makes us all the same, thats what being human is about, differences should be celebrated.

    • John says

      The Bible does not say that Adam and Eve were white, that is simply the way most European artists have chosen to depict them. It is actually believed that the first homo sapiens were “black” and from there lost use for dark skin pigments and protection from the sun as they moved north into colder climates.

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