Saturday, December 13, 2008

NLSY blogging: Eye and hair color of Americans   posted by Jason Malloy @ 12/13/2008 09:28:00 PM

So sayeth Aggro in the thread down below:

"They should have measured eye and hair color -- we don't have any representative data! Seriously, they'll take extra long to measure all kinds of weird things that only an anthropometer would know of, but not eye and hair color."

I too have previously lamented this odd failure in easy measurement. A literature search had me coming up short for an adequate published sample of American eye and hair color. The best estimate I could cobble together from several small studies was that about 25% of American whites were blond. But, Ho Ho!, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth is online and carries these simple treasures within its bosom.

The following hair and eye color information was self-reported in 1985 by a representative sample of those born between 1957-1965 (ages 20-28; currently 43-51). I've included blacks and Hispanics for the gender breakdown:

The first observation is that blond hair is exhibited by a little less than 20% of the white population; smaller than the estimates mentioned above. Second, consistent with Razib's previous look at published data from Iceland and the Netherlands, blue eyes are more common in men than in women. Also like the European data, green eyes are more common in women, though the NLSY difference is not as extreme. Blond hair is also more common in females. The trend in all three groups is for females to report lighter hair pigmentation; 66% of white males report darker hair, compared with 55% of females, and both black and Hispanic females are much more likely than men to report 'brown' hair instead of 'black'. Unfortunately, since the data are self-reported it's difficult to know how much of this is subjective. Is this a further example of lighter pigmentation in women, or does sexual dimorphism in pigmentation lead men and/or women to view their own pigmentation as more "sex-typical"?

I was also curious about how these figures differ for various European-American ancestries:

English ancestry Americans and German Americans are very similar for eye and hair color. Hair color is somewhat darker with the French and Irish, and much darker for Italians. Eye color is not darker for the Irish, but is again somewhat darker for the French, and much darker for the Italians.

Finally, we've also discussed the link between personality, behavior, and light pigmentation before, so I took some quick, rough looks to see if there was any signal within the English/German sample. The answer is: not from what I could see. There were no meaningful differences between dark and light haired people in getting in trouble with the police, in getting into physical fights at school or work, or in pregnancy before marriage.

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