Most Common Eye Color?

eyes-blkEver wondered, what is the dominant eye color in the US?

Or what color of eyes most of the people in the world have?

Ever been curious what color Adam & Eve’s eyes were?!

You’re probably wondering, “Why is she asking?” Well, let me explain. It’s just one of those odd things that popped into my head this morning as I was entering information from Napoleon Smock’s WWI draft card.

Back in the beginning I blithely accepted whatever Ancestry’s transcribers gave me. I’ve since learned: #1) They don’t always transcribe correctly, and #2) There’s more information on the record than what they are required to transcribe.

Napoleon’s WWI Draft Card transcription gives this information:

Name: Napoleon McElroy Smock
Event Type: Draft Registration
Event Date: 1917-1918
Event Place: Livingston County, Kentucky, United States
Gender: Male
Nationality: United States
Birth Date: 24 Apr 1891

But there’s so much more on the card: the actual date, for one thing. I don’t like vague dates, like 1917-1918. Doesn’t even tell me which draft he was part of without looking at the card.

It gives not only his occupation, but who he worked for and where [Cashier of Citizens Bank in Carrsville], his marital status [single], dependents [none], race [Caucasion], military experience [none], and whether he claimed an exemption [no]. And that’s just the front.

The back contains those wonderful details that most genealogists are curious about: What did my ancestor look like?

Napoleon McElroy Smock

photo courtesy FamilySearch1 [click image to view entire card]

He was medium height and slender with blue eyes and brown hair. And not bald! That cracked me up. First they ask his hair color, then ask if he’s bald? Can anyone explain why they are concerned about bald people??

It also indicates his right ankle was broken. Doesn’t that make you wonder how it happened? I’m sure there’s a story behind that injury. But I digress!

Anyhow, that’s the long story about how I got to wondering about eye color in general, and what the dominant eye color is now in the US. I Googled that question and learned blue eyes are on the decline here in the States.

Fewer Blue Eyes in the Future

…about 100 years ago, half of U.S. residents had blue eyes. Nowadays only 1 in 6 does.2

eyes-blSo around the beginning of the 20th Century, 50% of the people in the United States had blue eyes. That percentage is now down to 16%.

There are a couple of reasons for that. One is immigration. In recent years, more brown eyed people have moved into the US. Plus we no longer stick to our ethnicity group when we marry like we did in the old days. So there’s more blue eyed people marrying brown eyed people, and if you remember your junior high science class, brown is the dominant gene when blue and brown combine.

They say this will continue in the future, more mixed marriages will produce more brown eyed children. But never fear, those baby blues will not disappear.

Blue Eyes Won’t Become Extinct Though

The version of the eye color gene that leads to blue eyes doesn’t disappear from the human race when someone with blue eyes has a brown eyed child. This gene version instead goes into hiding, waiting for the right opportunity to cause blue eyes again.2

If you’re one of those blue-eyed babies, consider yourself a rare breed, and close to exotic. I happen to be a blue-eyed child from a blue eyed father and a brown eyed mother. I was the right opportunity in my parent’s gene mix to catch blue eyes. As a child, I thought brown eyes were prettier, and wished I had my mother’s eyes. However, since I’ve grown up, I don’t think I’d look right with brown eyes, and am very happy with what God gave me.

The Blue Eyes History Mystery

Everyone had brown eyes in the beginning, according to this article from the Department of Genetics, Stanford School of Medicine. Then somewhere along the line, there was a break-down, or a mix-up in the gene that caused brown eyes.  Because we get two sets of genes from our parents though, that child still had brown eyes.

However, now that the blue eyed gene had been introduced into the gene pool, eventually that gene would meet another likewise gene. And voila! Blue eyes were born. [It’s way more complicated than that. If you want a more scientific description, see #2 in citation below]

This blue-eyed person must have been special somehow because the blue OCA2 [gene] quickly swept through the European population. Soon there were places where blue eyed people outnumbered brown eyed ones.

We don’t know what made these blue eyed people special. It may have been that they were irresistible to the opposite sex and so had lots more babies than brown eyed people. Or blue eyes may have been tied to some useful Northern European trait like pale skin.

Whatever the reason for their eye color, these blue eyed people established themselves and spread. And, for various reasons, they tended to have children with only each other.2

The article goes on to explain their hypothesis about the mixing of brown eyed people and blue eyed people and why blue eyed children will still be born. Basically they’re saying after all the mixing, the blue-eyed population will settle down to a constant number and probably remain there. But it will be less than what we have now.

OK, so now that I’ve explained more than you ever wanted to know(!), tell me what color your eyes are. And what color your parents’ eyes were. I’d like to know. Really!

1 “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918”, index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K78F-QMW : accessed 03 Aug 2014), Napoleon Mcelroy Smock, 1917-1918.
2 Understanding Genetics (Why Are blue eyes so uncommon anymore?) 12 Apr 2010 http://genetics.thetech.org/ask/ask355
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