Non-white immigration and the decline of blue eyes in America
Once a hallmark of the boy and girl next door, blue eyes have become increasingly rare among American children. Immigration patterns, intermarriage, and genetics all play a part in their steady decline. While the drop-off has been a century in the making, the plunge in the past few decades has taken place at a remarkable rate.
About half of Americans born at the turn of the 20th century had blue eyes, according to a 2002 Loyola University study in Chicago. By mid-century that number had dropped to a third. Today only about one 1 of every 6 Americans has blue eyes, said Mark Grant, the epidemiologist who conducted the study.
Grant was moved to research the subject when he noticed that blue eyes were much more prevalent among his elderly patients in the nursing home where he worked than in the general population. At first he thought blue eyes might be connected to life expectancy, so he began comparing data from early 20th-century health surveys. Turns out it has more to do with marriage patterns.
A century ago, 80 percent of people married within their ethnic group, Grant said. Blue eyes -- a genetically recessive trait -- were routinely passed down, especially among people of English, Irish, and Northern European ancestry.
By mid-century, a person's level of education -- and not ethnicity -- became the primary factor in selecting a spouse. As intermarriage between ethnic groups became the norm, blue eyes began to disappear, replaced by brown.
The influx of nonwhites into the United States, especially from Latin America and Asia, hastened the disappearance. Between 1900 and 1950, only about 1 in 10 Americans was nonwhite. Today that ratio is 1 in 3.
Another downside of our foolish immigration policies.
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