Difference between Ethnicity and Culture

Key Difference: The sense of identification that a cultural group collectively has is largely based on the group’s common heritage. Each ethnic group is different from the other. Culture reflects the characteristics that describe a society at a particular time. Culture is mostly associated with the art forms of the group.

Ethnicity and culture are inter-related. Yet just what do they actually mean? Are they merely synonyms for one another, or do they point to very different dimensions of the social order? Let’s identify the terms ethnicity and culture as currently used in popular discourse, and also let’s focus on the significance of there usages.

Wikipedia defines ethnicity as “A socially defined category of people who identify with each other based on a shared social experience or ancestry.” Ethnicity is also known as ethnic group. The word ethnic has been derived from the Greek word ‘ethnos’, meaning heathen and pagan. Ethnicity is a method of classification based upon a common trait of the population, such as a common heritage, a common culture, a shared language or dialect. Some ethnic groups may be marked by little more than a common name. However, ethnic groups have a consciousness of their common cultural bond. The bond develops because of their unique historical and social experiences. This becomes the basis for the group’s ethnic identity.

Each ethnic group is different from the other. They have different cultural practices, different society norms, different mannerisms, and behaviors. They may or may not have different languages, dialects or accents. Each ethnic group has a different culture, tradition and customs. That which may be accepted in one ethnicity, may be taboo or frowned upon in another.

Wikipedia defines culture as “The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively”. The word culture has been derived from the Latin word ‘cultura’, meaning cultivation.  In 18th or 19th century, the word culture was used in Europe to refer to a process of cultivation or improvement. Later in the 19th century, the term evolved and started being used for referring to the betterment or refinement of the society, and then to fulfillment of national ideals or aspirations. In 20th century, it finally emerged as an important concept in anthropology describing the human related phenomena that cannot be considered genetically inherited. It is an attribute referring to members of groups. Culture is always transmitted by the society, not by an individual.

Comparison between Ethnicity and Culture:






  • Relating to or characteristic of a human group having racial, religious, linguistic, and certain other traits in common.
  • Relating to the classification of mankind into groups, esp. on the basis of racial characteristics.


  • The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.
  • These patterns, traits, and products are considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population.

Derived from

Greek word ‘ethnos’

Latin word ‘cultura’

Meaning Heathen and pagan Cultivation


Ethnicity is also a real concept that relates to identities like caste, language, religion, etc.

Culture is more real concept to beliefs, arts, etc.

Shared Living in the same area or sharing the same place of origin. It shares values, beliefs and rules of conduct that make people behave in a certain way.

Cultural imposition and Ethnocentrism

The belief that one’s own ideas, beliefs and practices are the best and superior.

The tendency for health personnel to impose their beliefs practices and values of other cultures, because they believe that their ideas are superior.

Image Courtesy: sciencedaily.com, socialstudies.pppst.com

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