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Is red hair more rare than blue eyes?

Red hair and blue eyes are both relatively uncommon hair and eye colors. Some people are curious about which trait is rarer. In this article, we’ll compare the global prevalence of natural red hair versus blue eyes to determine which one is less common worldwide.

Prevalence of Red Hair

Red hair is caused by a genetic mutation in the MC1R gene. Having two copies of this recessive gene variant produces a phenotype of red hair, fair skin, and freckles. Only about 1-2% of the global population has natural red hair.

The highest concentration of redheads is found in northern and western Europe, especially in Scotland and Ireland. Up to 13% of the population has red hair in Scotland. In contrast, red hair is extremely rare in most other parts of the world. It’s virtually absent among Native Americans, Africans, and East Asians.

Here is a table summarizing the prevalence of red hair in selected world regions:

Region Prevalence of Red Hair
Scotland 13%
Ireland 10%
Wales 6%
England 4%
United States 2-6%
Germany 3%
Russia 3%
Poland 2%
France 2%
Australia 6-10%
New Zealand 6-10%

As shown, red hair rates peak in the British Isles, especially Scotland and Ireland. Rates are also high in other parts of northern Europe. The prevalence declines significantly in southern European countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece. Outside of Europe, red hair is most common in populations descended from European settlers, like the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Prevalence of Blue Eyes

Blue eyes are also caused by a specific genetic mutation. Having two copies of the recessive blue eye gene produces the phenotype of blue irises. Globally, only 8-10% of people have blue eyes.

Like red hair, blue eyes are most prevalent in northern and eastern Europe. The highest frequencies are observed in countries like Finland, Germany, the Baltic states, and Poland. Up to 99% of people have blue eyes in some Nordic populations. Blue eyes are also relatively common in northern parts of the British Isles.

Here is a summary of blue eye prevalence in selected regions:

Region Prevalence of Blue Eyes
Finland 99%
Germany 75%
Denmark 72%
Norway 69%
Sweden 63%
Iceland 53%
Estonia 99%
Latvia 59%
Lithuania 55%
Poland 48%
Ireland 22%
England 22%
Scotland 16%
Spain 27%

Blue eyes become much rarer in southern Europe and are extremely uncommon in most parts of Africa and Asia. Among Americans of European ancestry, blue eyes are most common in people of German and Scandinavian descent.

Comparison of Prevalence

When we compare the global distributions, blue eyes appear to be rarer worldwide than natural red hair. Here are some key points in the comparison:

  • The highest concentrations of red hair in Ireland and Scotland reach 10-13% of the population.
  • In contrast, blue eyes exceed 90-99% prevalence in some Nordic countries.
  • Red hair is confined mostly to northern and western Europe. Blue eyes have a wider distribution across eastern Europe as well.
  • Outside of Europe, red hair is somewhat more common among European-ancestry populations than blue eyes.
  • Globally, blue eyes likely affect under 10% of people compared to 1-2% for red hair.

Based on these patterns, blue eyes appear less common overall than red hair globally. However, blue eyes are much more prevalent within certain ethnic groups in northern Europe. So in some specific populations, blue eyes are actually more common than red hair.

Other Factors

There are a few other factors that may influence the relative rarity of these traits:

  • Visibility – Red hair is often more visually striking than blue eyes. So redheads may seem more common than the prevalence data suggests.
  • Darkening with age – Blue eyes can darken somewhat into adulthood. So blue eye prevalence may be underestimated in adults.
  • Interaction of genes – Red hair and blue eyes often co-occur in people carrying both recessive genes.

So while global prevalence statistics indicate blue eyes are rarer, human perception and changes over time may affect these rates. The two traits are also correlated in many northern European populations.


Analyzing available data on the geographical distributions, blue eyes globally affect a smaller percentage of people compared to natural red hair. However, blue eyes reach very high frequencies in some northern European ethnic groups. So in particular populations, especially around the Baltic Sea, blue eyes are actually more common than red hair.

Both eye and hair colors represent intriguing examples of localized genetic adaptation in human populations. Their prevalence illustrates how small genetic changes can become concentrated in specific geographic areas and cultures over time. Looking at their distribution patterns sheds light on the intersection of human appearance, ancestry, and evolution.