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

Dede K. Teteh, Lenna Dawkins-Moultin, Stanley Hooker, Wenndy Hernandez, Carolina Bonilla, Dorothy Galloway, Victor LaGroon, Eunice Rebecca Santos, Mark Shriver, Charmaine D.M. Royal, Rick A. Kittles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Introduction 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. Methods 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. Results 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. Conclusions 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0237041
JournalPloS one
Issue number8 August
StatePublished - Aug 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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