Difference Between Ethnicity and Culture

Main Difference – Ethnicity vs Culture

Both Ethnicity and Culture are interesting topics in Sociology. These two aspects prevail in almost all the societies around the world. The main difference between ethnicity and culture is that ethnicity is the division of groups of people depending on their ancestry, culture or other special characteristics of the society in which he/she is born into. Culture, on the other hand, is a social phenomenon which explains the characteristics of a particular society. However, an individual may inherit both an ethnicity and culture at birth, and he/she is able to change these in later years according to their will. These are not rigid social values. In this article, we are going to look at the difference between Ethnicity and Culture in detail.

What is Ethnicity

Ethnicity is the identification of a person based on his/her common ancestry, social and cultural identity, race, language, motherland, etc. Factors such as religion, physical appearance, a way of dressing, food patterns, etc. characterize one’s ethnicity. An ethnic group can consist of thousands of members or just five or six people. Han Chinese is considered to be the largest ethnic group in the modern world.

Further, an ethnic group can be further categorized into clans or tribes. These might later form their own ethnicities, or some different ethnic groups might merge together  forming one ethnicity. This process is called, “ethno genesis.” Depending on the source of identity, several ethnic groups can be seen. Ethno-racial groups, ethno-religious groups, ethno-national groups, ethno-linguist groups are some of them. Moreover, it is possible for individuals to move from one ethnic group to another if there is acceptance from the latter.Difference Between Ethnicity and Culture

What is Culture

Culture is a social phenomenon which indicates the features of a particular society. Culture comprises of fields such as habits, values, art, music, beliefs, knowledge, etc. and almost all the members of a specific society share these cultural traits. Culture is not a biologically inherited phenomenon; it is socially acquired. An infant acquires cultural traits by observing the parents’ or other adults’ behavior. Moreover, culture is not static; it changes with the passage of time. All the members of a particular society contribute to change the culture over the time.

The music, food, clothing patterns, lifestyles of a certain time period depends on the culture of that period or era. For example, the lifestyle during the ancient kings’ era, is totally different from the modern era. It is the cultural change that have prompted these changes. Though art, music, food, clothes, etc. are all material representations of culture, culture itself is a very abstract phenomenon. Culture shapes the behavior of individual members in a particular society, and it is the culture which brings diverse people together to form one unique community. An individual can also shift from one culture to another as his/her will. When people travel, they invariably acquire different cultural traits of different communities.Main Difference - Ethnicity vs Culture

Difference Between Ethnicity and Culture


Ethnicity is the classification of a person based on his/her common ancestry, social and cultural identity, language, race, motherland, etc

Culture is a representation of special characteristics of a particular society.


We can identify a person’s ethnic identity based on the physical appearance, beliefs, and practices.

We cannot distinguish a person’s culture based on the appearance. Culture is represented mostly in material items.


Ethnicity is biologically inherited.

Culture is socially acquired.


Ethnic mobility is possible if there is acceptance from both ethnic groups.

Culture is very dynamic, and anybody can acquire others’ cultural traits.Difference Between Ethnicity and Culture - infographic

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