Difference between ethnicity and nationality

Key difference - ethnicity vs. nationality

Many people assume that the two terms ethnicity and nationality refer to the same thing. However, this is not true. Ethnicity refers to your cultural identity based on language, customs, traditions, and common ancestry. Nationality refers to the country you live in (the country you were born in or are a national of). This is the main difference between ethnicity and nationality. However, it is not always easy to determine ethnicity and nationality with ease because some people are mixed races or are citizens of more than one country.

This article covers

1. What is ethnicity? - Significance, characteristics and functions

2. What is nationality? - Significance, characteristics and functions

3. What is the difference between ethnicity and nationality?

Difference Between Ethnicity and Nationality - Summary of the comparison between ethnicity and nationality

What is ethnicity?

Ethnicity is a cultural identity based on a common ancestry, language and cultural tradition. Other variables such as geographic location, religion, eating together, dress style, beliefs and customs, etc. may also play a role in ethnicity.

There are several ethnic groups depending on the origin of the group identity. Ethno-racial groups (e.g. Afro-Brazilians), ethno-religious groups (e.g. Sikhs), ethnonational groups (e.g. Pakistanis), ethno-linguistic (e.g. Gael) groups are some of them. An ethnic group can have thousands of members or just five to six people. A large ethnic group can form several different ethnic groups, or several ethnic groups can join together to form a larger group.

A person can be of mixed ethnic background. For example, suppose a person has a Hispanic father and a Chinese / Vietnamese mother. This person may also be familiar with the culture, traditions, and languages ​​of both parents. In such cases, that person does not fall into a particular ethnicity.

Difference between ethnicity and nationality

2005 estimates for British ethnic groups

What is nationality

Nationality refers to the relationship between a person and a state . To be more precise, it refers to the state of a person in relation to the nation in which he was born or lived in. The nationality of a person is determined by birth or naturalization. For example, a person who has lived in Australia for many years and is an Australian citizen may consider himself an Australian. But his ethnicity could be Indian. Also think of an Italian who was granted citizenship and who has lived in England for a long time. This person could consider their nationality to be British.

According to the law, citizenship gives the state jurisdiction over a person and ensures that he or she is protected by the state. Thus, citizenship can also be viewed as a legal construct.

Key difference - ethnicity vs. nationality

Difference between ethnicity and nationality


Ethnicity is the cultural identity based on a common ancestry, language and cultural tradition.

Nationality is the relationship between a person and a state.


Ethnicity is a social construct.

Citizenship can be seen as a legal construct.


Ethnicity is influenced by culture, language, religion, etc.

Nationality is mainly influenced by geographical location and political borders.

Image courtesy:

"England Relief Location Map" By Nilfanion - Ordnance Survey OpenData. Relief data from the Land-Form Panorama product. Administrative boundaries and coastline data from the Boundary-Line product. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Coastal data outside of Great Britain (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

"England 2005 Ethnicity Estimates (Breakdown)" By Stevvvv4444 (conversation) - Self-created (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the author: Hasa

Hasa holds a BA in English, French and Translation Studies. She is currently reading for a Masters in English. Her areas of interest include literature, language, linguistics and also food.