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Race and Ethnicity

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

What Is the Difference Between Race and Ethnicity?

Both race, which describes physical characteristics, and ethnicity, which encompasses cultural traditions such as language and religion, play pivotal and socially significant roles in people's lives. These aspects of identity inform how individuals see themselves and the world, how others perceive them, and how they relate to each other. As immigrants create a more diverse nation, communities built around racial and ethnic identity can be a source of resilience and connectedness for arrivals who might otherwise feel isolated or alienated.

Although many people embrace racial and ethnic diversity, developing tolerance and respect for human differences, minority communities in the United States and elsewhere continue to suffer from inequality, injustice, and exclusion. The adverse personal, political, economic, and psychological implications of this discrimination and marginalization can include societal rejection, fewer job and educational opportunities, lower-quality medical and mental-health care, and unfair treatment by authorities.

Who Is Considered A Minority Group?


Historically, sociologists have defined a minority group as one that lacks power and is marginalized, often due to physical traits. However, minority status can also viewed in demographic terms: Non-white and Hispanic individuals currently account for less than 50 percent of the U.S. population, but the Census Bureau projects that by 2045, the country will become “majority minority." It’s unclear how this shift will impact race relations, but large recent studies indicate that some white Americans hold negative feelings about the trend. Understanding the role of implicit and explicit biases, structural racism, and evolving attitudes about race—particularly as a more diverse younger generation matures—are critical for a changing nation, on both the interpersonal and community levels.

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