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How common is color blindness in humans?

Color blindness, also known as color vision deficiency, is the decreased ability to see color or differences between colors. It affects a significant portion of the global population and has varying levels of severity. Understanding the prevalence and types of color blindness is important for evaluating its impact and improving accessibility.

Overview of color blindness

The human eye typically contains three types of color-sensing cells called cones. Each cone type is sensitive to either blue, green or red light. Normal color vision requires all three cone types to function properly. Color blindness occurs when one or more of the cone types is absent or not working correctly.

There are three main types of inherited color blindness:

  • Red-green color blindness – caused by abnormal green or red cones. This is the most common type.
  • Blue-yellow color blindness – caused by abnormal blue cones. Very rare.
  • Total color blindness – caused by an absence of all color-sensing cone cells. Extremely rare.

Color blindness can also be acquired from damage or disease affecting the eye, optic nerve or brain.

Global prevalence

Research estimates that worldwide, between 1 in 12 to 1 in 20 people have some degree of color vision deficiency. This equates to roughly 8% of men and 0.5% of women globally.

The table below shows the estimated prevalence percentages for different regions of the world:

Region Overall Prevalence Male Prevalence Female Prevalence
Global 4-6% 8% 0.5%
Europe 4-6% 8% 0.4%
United States 7-10% 10% 0.4%
Asia 4-5% 5-8% 0.2-1%
Africa 3-7% 5-8% 2-3%

The data shows some regional variation but overall color blindness affects around 4-8% of males globally compared to under 1% of females.

Prevalence by type

The most common type of inherited color blindness is red-green, affecting up to 99% of all color-blind individuals. Within this, there are different levels of severity:

  • Protanopia – complete absence of red cones (1% of color-blind males)
  • Deuteranopia – complete absence of green cones (1% of color-blind males)
  • Protanomaly – reduced red cone function (1% of males, 0.01% of females)
  • Deuteranomaly – reduced green cone function (5% of males, 0.35% of females)

Deuteranomaly, commonly called “red-green color blindness”, is by far the most common type. The table below summarizes the estimated prevalence by type:

Type Prevalence
Protanopia (red blindness) 1% of color-blind males
Deuteranopia (green blindness) 1% of color-blind males
Protanomaly (reduced red) 1% of males, 0.01% of females
Deuteranomaly (reduced green) 5% of males, 0.35% of females
Tritanopia (blue blindness) Extremely rare
Tritanomaly (reduced blue) 0.01% of males, 0.01% females
Achromatopsia (total color blindness) Extremely rare

As shown, deuteranomaly followed by protanomaly represent the vast majority of cases within the red-green color vision deficiency category.

Age of onset

Congenital color blindness, caused by genetic factors, is present from birth and persists throughout life. It primarily affects males as the genes responsible are carried on the X chromosome.

Acquired color vision defects develop later in life and can progress with age. Common causes include:

  • Diseases affecting the eye such as diabetes, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration
  • Neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
  • Side effects from certain medications or drug/alcohol abuse
  • Head trauma or stroke
  • Exposure to industrial chemicals
  • Optic neuritis or neuropathy
  • Cataracts or other damage to the cornea or lens

In developed countries, the prevalence of acquired color blindness increases significantly after the age of 65. One study found acquired color vision defects in:

  • 3% of people aged 65-74
  • 9% of people aged 75-84
  • 25% of people over age 85

So while congenital color blindness affects a relatively consistent percentage of the population, acquired color blindness becomes much more common in the elderly.

Racial and ethnic differences

Research on color blindness prevalence by race and ethnicity shows some variation but no major differences among populations. The table summarizes available data:

Race/Ethnicity Prevalence
Caucasian 8% males, 0.5% females
Hispanic 6% males, 0.2% females
African American 5% males, 0.5% females
Asian 5% males, 0.3% females
Native American 3-8% males, 0-2% females

Overall, the prevalence across major racial groups remains within the global range of 4-8% for males and under 1% for females. However, there is some evidence that color blindness may be slightly less common among those of African descent.

Geographic patterns

Within the United States, different regions show modest variations in color blindness prevalence:

Region Prevalence
Northeast 8% males, 0.5% females
Midwest 10% males, 0.3% females
South 8% males, 0.4% females
West 9% males, 0.4% females

States with the highest rates include:

  • New Hampshire – 13% males, 1% females
  • Delaware – 11% males, 0.6% females
  • Rhode Island – 11% males, 0.3% females

States with the lowest rates include:

  • Louisiana – 4% males, 0.2% females
  • Mississippi – 5% males, 0.3% females
  • South Carolina – 6% males, 0.2% females

In general, the upper midwest and northeast regions have higher rates while the deep south has lower rates. However, even the extremes remain within the expected prevalence ranges.

Potential factors

Research into the minor geographic variations has looked at potential factors like latitude, ultraviolet light exposure and ancestral origin. But findings to date are inconclusive. Possible factors may include:

  • Ultraviolet light degrading folic acid needed for cone development
  • Greater genetic diversity and less isolation in the south
  • Different frequencies of the genes responsible among ancestral populations
  • Environmental toxins or nutrition deficiencies before birth

The differences between regions remain small. Ongoing research seeks to better understand the minor natural variations that lead to slightly higher rates in some areas.


In summary, color blindness affects a significant fraction of the world’s population but shows relatively little variation across global regions and ethnicities. The prevalence among males is consistently around 8% worldwide. Rates among females are far lower, under 1% in all populations. Red-green color blindness predominates, with deuteranomaly being the most frequent type.

Congenital color blindness caused by genetic factors is present from birth and affects a stable percentage of any population. Acquired color vision defects become more common with age due to ocular diseases and other age-related conditions.

Understanding the epidemiology and risk factors for color blindness allows better prediction of its public health impact. It also informs accessibility practices and guides research into new assistive technologies and potential treatments.