Genetic ancestry, skin color and social attainment: The four cities study.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


The Black population in the US is heterogeneous but is often treated as monolithic in research, with skin pigmentation being the primary indicator of racial classification. Objective: This paper examines the differences among Blacks by comparing genetic ancestry, skin color and social attainment of 259 residents across four US cities-Norman, Oklahoma; Cincinnati, Ohio; Harlem, New York; and Washington, District of Columbia.


Participants were recruited between 2004 and 2006 at community-based forums. Cross-sectional data were analyzed using chi-square tests, correlation analyses and logistic regression.


There were variations in ancestry, melanin index and social attainment across some cities. Overall, men with darker skin color, and women with lighter skin color were significantly more likely to be married. Darker skin individuals with significantly more West African ancestry reported attainment of graduate degrees, and professional occupations than lighter skin individuals.


Our findings suggest differences in skin pigmentation by geography and support regional variations in ancestry of US Blacks. Biomedical research should consider genetic ancestry and local historical/social context rather than relying solely on skin pigmentation as a proxy for race.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Teteh, DK; Dawkins-Moultin, L; Hooker, S; Hernandez, W; Bonilla, C; Galloway, D; LaGroon, V; Santos, ER; Shriver, M; Royal, CDM; Kittles, RA

Published Date

  • January 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 15 / 8

Start / End Page

  • e0237041 -

PubMed ID

  • 32813691

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC7446776

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1932-6203

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1932-6203

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1371/journal.pone.0237041


  • eng