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Who has red hair and blue eyes?

Having both red hair and blue eyes is a relatively rare combination in humans. Only around 1-2% of the global population have this genetic profile. So what causes red hair and blue eyes to occur together, and in which populations around the world is this more commonly seen?

What Causes Red Hair and Blue Eyes?

Red hair is caused by a genetic mutation in the MC1R gene, which results in the production of a reddish-colored pigment called pheomelanin. This is in contrast to the more common dark brown or black pigment called eumelanin. The MC1R gene mutation originally arose in early populations living in Europe thousands of years ago where sunlight levels were lower. This mutation likely provided an evolutionary advantage at higher latitudes by enabling more efficient vitamin D production with less sunlight exposure.

Blue eyes are caused by low levels of melanin pigment in the iris of the eye. This allows more light to scatter and reveal the underlying blue color caused by collagen fibers in the iris. As with red hair, genetic studies have traced the blue eye mutation to the same European populations where red hair arose.

The genetics of red hair and blue eyes are closely linked. If someone inherits two copies of the MC1R gene mutation, there is a high chance they will have red hair. They are also more likely to have pale skin that enables the light scattering that brings out blue eye color. Therefore, populations where red hair is more common also tend to have a higher prevalence of blue eyes.

Where Are Red Hair and Blue Eyes Most Common?

The largest concentrations of red-haired and blue-eyed individuals are found in northern and western European countries and populations of European ancestry. This includes:

  • Scotland – Around 13% of the population has red hair and over 30% have blue eyes
  • Ireland – 10% have red hair, 50% have blue eyes
  • Wales – 10% red hair, 57% blue eyes
  • England – 6% red hair, 48% blue eyes
  • Finland – 4% red hair, 79% blue eyes
  • Norway – 4% red hair, 69% blue eyes
  • Sweden – 4% red hair, 72% blue eyes
  • Iceland – 5% red hair, 89% blue eyes – the highest percentage for any country

Outside of Europe, blue eyes and red hair occur at lower frequencies but can still be found among populations of European descent in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

While less common, red hair and blue eyes can also occur in some non-European groups where MC1R gene variants have arisen. This includes certain Berber and Jewish populations living around the Mediterranean where European interactions occurred.

Percentages of Red Hair and Blue Eyes Around the World

Here is a table showing the percentages of people with red hair and blue eyes in various world regions and selected countries:

Country or Region Red Hair % Blue Eyes %
Scotland 13% 30%
Ireland 10% 50%
Wales 10% 57%
England 6% 48%
Finland 4% 79%
Norway 4% 69%
Sweden 4% 72%
Iceland 5% 89%
United States 2% 29%
Canada 2% 29%
Australia 2% 39%
New Zealand 2% 29%
Asia Less than 1% Less than 5%
Africa Less than 1% Less than 5%

As the table shows, northern European countries like Ireland, Scotland and Iceland have some of the highest rates of red hair and blue eyes in the world. The percentages drop off significantly in countries outside of Europe.

Famous People with Red Hair and Blue Eyes

Having both red hair and blue eyes is a distinctive combination, so many celebrities and famous figures throughout history having this genetic profile have stood out:

  • Prince Harry – Member of the British royal family
  • Gal Gadot – Israeli actress who played Wonder Woman
  • Conan O’Brien – American late-night talk show host
  • Amy Adams – American actress known for roles in Enchanted, Arrival, and more
  • Damian McGinty – Irish singer and actor, Glee cast member
  • Randall Munroe – Creator of the xkcd webcomic
  • Boudica – Celtic queen who led a rebellion against Roman rule in ancient Britain
  • Queen Elizabeth I – Famous Tudor era Queen of England during the 1500s

While less common globally, red hair and blue eyes are a memorable trait among famous people and key historical figures originating from northern European ancestry.

Changes Over Time

Over the past century, the percentages of people with red hair and blue eyes have decreased in European populations. There are several reasons hypothesized for this:

  • Red hair and fair skin are linked to vitamin D production. As nutrition improved, this trait became less crucial for survival.
  • Increased mobility and immigration led to more genetic mixing in European populations.
  • Higher rates of urbanization meant less need for vitamin D production as more time was spent indoors.
  • Improved healthcare meant people with these traits were no longer selected against due to illnesses.

While the percentages have declined, red hair and blue eyes will likely persist at measurable levels given their deep roots in the European genepool. However, they may continue to slowly decline over time if current societal and migration trends hold.


In summary, red hair and blue eyes arise from genetic mutations originally found in northern European populations. These traits likely provided an evolutionary advantage under low sunlight conditions by enhancing vitamin D production. While globally rare, pockets of higher percentages remain in countries like Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Iceland. However, rates have been gradually declining over the past century due to reduced selection pressures and increased mixing between populations. Though increasingly uncommon, red hair and blue eyes remain a distinct and memorable signature of European ancestry.