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Is color blindness more common in females?

Color blindness, also known as color vision deficiency, is the decreased ability to see color or differences in color. It most often involves colors red, green, and occasionally blue. Color blindness affects a significant percentage of the population, but is it more common in females or males?

Quick Answer

No, color blindness is much more common in males than females. Approximately 1 in 12 males (8%) and 1 in 200 females (0.5%) are color blind. The most common type is red-green color blindness, which affects about 1 in 20 males but only 1 in 400 females.

Overview of Color Blindness

Color blindness occurs when there is an abnormality in the color-sensing pigments in the cones of the eye. There are three types of cones that detect light: some specialized in blue, some in green, and some in red. For normal color vision, all three types of cones must work properly.

There are different types of color blindness based on which cones are faulty:

  • Red-green color blindness – caused by abnormal red or green cones. Red, orange, yellow, and green may be confused.
  • Blue-yellow color blindness – caused by abnormal blue cones. Blue and yellow may be confused.
  • Total color blindness – all three cone types are abnormal. Only shades of gray can be seen.

By far the most common type is red-green color blindness. Blue-yellow color blindness and total color blindness are very rare.

Color Blindness is Genetic

Color blindness is a sex-linked genetic disorder. The genes that produce color vision pigments are located on the X chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes, so if one X chromosome carries the defective gene, the second X chromosome will usually compensate. For a female to be color blind, both X chromosomes need to carry the defective gene.

Males only have one X chromosome. If that one X chromosome carries the defective gene, the male will be color blind. There is no second X chromosome to provide normal color vision genes. That is why color blindness is much more common in males than females.

Prevalence in Males vs. Females

Here is a breakdown of how common color blindness is in males compared to females:

Type of Color Blindness Prevalence in Males Prevalence in Females
Red-green 1 in 12 males (8%) 1 in 200 females (0.5%)
Blue-yellow 1 in 100 males (1%) 1 in 10,000 females (0.01%)
Total color blindness 1 in 30,000 males (0.003%) Extremely rare in females

As the table shows, red-green color blindness is by far the most common type. It affects 8% of males, compared to only 0.5% of females. Other types of color blindness are even rarer, especially in females.

Reasons for Higher Prevalence in Males

There are a few key reasons why color blindness affects many more males than females:

  • The genetic defect is on the X chromosome. Males only have one X while females have two.
  • Females need defects on both X chromosomes to be color blind. Males only need one defective X.
  • The protective effect of the second X chromosome in females prevents most cases of color blindness.

In essence, females have a “backup” X chromosome that usually carries the healthy, normal color vision genes. Even if one X chromosome is defective, the second one compensates. Males do not have this protective backup.

Can Color Blindness Affect One Eye More?

In very rare cases, a female can have color blindness in only one eye. This occurs if the gene on one X chromosome is defective, while the gene on the other X chromosome is normal. Each eye has different X chromosomes, so one eye may end up with color blindness while the other eye has normal color vision.

However, even in these uncommon cases, the color blindness often affects both eyes to some degree. The defective X chromosome and lack of backup in that one eye will lead to more significant color blindness in that eye, but some minor color confusion may occur in the other “normal” eye.

Types of Color Blindness Tests

Color blindness is usually detected in childhood or early school years using screening tests. Some common color vision tests include:

  • Ishihara plates – containing colored dots that form a picture or number visible to those with normal color vision.
  • Farnsworth D-15 test – arranging colored caps in order based on hue.
  • Lantern tests – identifying colored lights.
  • Anomaloscopy – matching shades of red/green or blue/yellow.

These screening tests are reasonably accurate and can identify most cases of color blindness, especially in children. More extensive tests can definitively diagnose color vision defects in unclear cases.

Impact of Color Blindness

Color blindness is typically a minor nuisance rather than a significant disability. However, certain professions requiring normal color vision may be unavailable, such as:

  • Electricians, pilots, train conductors (color coding of wires is important).
  • Doctors, nurses, dentists (matching colors of health products).
  • Police, firemen (identifying colored signs or wires).
  • Artists, designers, photographers.

Children with color blindness may also have difficulties with colored learning materials in school. Special accommodations can be made in these cases.


In summary, color blindness is much more prevalent in males compared to females. Approximately 8% of males vs. 0.5% of females have the most common type (red-green color blindness). This significant difference is due to color blindness being an X-linked genetic disorder. The protective effect of the second X chromosome in females prevents most cases of color blindness.