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Ann Hum Biol. 2002 Nov-Dec;29(6):657-66.

Cohort effects in a genetically determined trait: eye colour among US whites.

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Department of Family Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, IL 60153, USA.



While the inheritance of eye colour is likely polygenic, blue eye colour is thought to follow an inheritance pattern similar to that of a recessive trait. Consequently, age-related differences in the prevalence of blue eye colour would be unanticipated.


This study explores the finding and explanation for birth cohort differences in the prevalence of blue eye colour in the US white population.


Data from the first (1971-1975) and third (1988-1994) US National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES-I and NHANES-III), nationally representative surveys of the US population, were analysed. Trends in eye colour prevalence by birth cohort were analysed together with mortality rates according to eye colour. US census data (1980) were examined to explore cohort differences in ancestry and assortative mating by ancestry.


The prevalence of blue eye colour among non-Hispanic whites in NHANES-III was 57.4% (95% CI: 50.1-64.7) for individuals born between 1899 and 1905 compared to 33.8% (95% CI: 31.3-36.5) for those born between 1936 and 1951. No association was found between survival and eye colour, nor was a cohort effect evident for primary ancestry. However, proportions reporting only one ancestry in census data declined with successive birth cohorts.


A cohort effect in blue eye colour prevalence was found for the US white population. A secular trend of decreasing assortative mating by ancestry is the likely explanation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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