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.
In the 1930s, eugenicists used the disappearance of blue eyes as a rallying cry to support immigration restrictions. They went so far as to map the parts of the country with the highest and lowest percentage of blue-eyed people.
A 2002 study found the prevalence of blue eye color among Caucasians in the United States to be 33.8 percent for those born from 1936 through 1951 compared with 57.4 percent for those born from 1899 through 1905. Blue eyes have become increasingly rare among American children with only 1 out of every 6 – 16.6 percent which is 49.8 million out of 300 million (22.4% of white Americans) of the total United States population having blue eyes. The plunge in the past few decades has taken place at a remarkable rate. A century ago, 80 percent of people married within their ethnic group. Blue eyes, a genetically recessive trait, were routinely passed down, especially among people of Scottish, English, Irish, Welsh, Western and Northern Slavic, and Northern European ancestry.
Today, fewer than 9% of the children under the age of 5 years old in the U.S. have blue eyes.
For countries that haven’t experienced high levels of immigration, that percentage is still very high. In Estonia, for example, 99 percent of the population has blue eyes.
There has been a lot of mixing going on and so far I’ve seen at least two young Black men with blue eyes while waiting in the checkout line, lighter skinned, obviously had a white mother.