Difference Between Ethnicity and Nationality

Main Difference – Ethnicity vs Nationality

Many people assume the two terms ethnicity and nationality refer to the same thing. However, this is not true. Ethnicity refers to your cultural identity which is based on language, customs, traditions and shared ancestry. Nationality refers to the country where you live in ( the country where you were born in or hold citizenship in). This is the main difference between ethnicity and nationality.  However, it is not always easy to identify the ethnicity and nationality effortlessly since some people have mixed ethnicities or hold citizenships in more than one country.

This article covers,

1. What is Ethnicity? – Meaning, Characteristics, and Features 

2. What is Nationality? – Meaning, Characteristics, and Features 

3. What is the difference between Ethnicity and Nationality 

Difference Between Ethnicity and Nationality - Ethnicity vs Nationality Comparison Summary

What is Ethnicity

Ethnicity is a cultural identity, based on shared ancestry, language, and cultural tradition. Other variables such as geographical location, religion, common food, the way of dressing, beliefs, and customs, etc. can also play a role in ethnicity.

There are several ethnic groups depending on the source of group identity. Ethno-racial groups (Ex: Afro-Brazilians), ethnoreligious groups (Ex: Sikhs), ethnonational groups (Ex: Pakistani), ethnolinguistic (Ex: Gaels) groups are some of them.  An ethnic group can have thousands of members or just five six individuals.  A large ethnic group can form several different ethnic groups, or several ethnic groups can also merge together to form a bigger group.

An individual may have a 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 one definite ethnicity.

Difference Between Ethnicity and Nationality

2005 Estimates for UK ethnic groups

What is Nationality

Nationality refers to the relationship between a person and a state. To be more specific, it refers to the state of a person in relation to the nation in which he was born or lives in. The nationality of a person is determined by birth or naturalization. For example, an individual who has lived many years in Australia and holds Australian citizenship may consider himself an Australian. But, his ethnicity might be Indian. Similarly, consider an Italian who has been granted citizenship and been living a long time in England. That person might consider his nationality to be British.

In law, nationality affords the state jurisdiction over a person and ensures he or she is protected by the state. Thus, nationality can also be considered as a legal construct.

Main Difference - Ethnicity vs Nationality

Difference Between Ethnicity and Nationality


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

Nationality is the relationship between a person and a state.


Ethnicity is a social construct.

Nationality can be regarded as a legal construct.


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

Nationality is mainly influenced by geographical location and political boundaries.

Image Courtesy:

“England relief location map” By Nilfanion – Ordnance Survey OpenData.Relief data from Land-Form Panorama product.Administrative borders and coastline data from Boundary-Line product.National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Coastline data outside of Great Britain via

“England 2005 Ethnicity Estimates (breakdown)” By Stevvvv4444 (talk) – self-made via

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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