It is said you have the luck of the Irish if you have red hair. And considering the odds, it’s probably true. Only about 1%-2% of the world has red, orange, or ginger hair.
There are many shades of red hair, ranging from dark red or burgundy to auburn, orange, copper-colored, and even strawberry blond. Usually, people with red hair have lighter skin, lighter eyes, freckles, and sensitivity to bright light, but that is not always the case, as there have been different those who do not have this typical checklist.
Redheads may be the rarest hair color in the world, but there are several countries where it’s more prevalent to find redheads. Let’s look at the top five countries with the most redheads. We will also explore other countries worldwide that may have a higher-than-average amount of redheads and why people have red hair.
Ireland has the most redheads in the entire world. About 10% of the population and some believe it might be as high as 15%, have red hair. This red hair ranges from dark to lighter colors.
Although the prevalence is higher, you may think that red hair stereotypes don’t exist, but they do. Fishermen believed it would be unlucky if they saw a red-haired woman. Of course, someone should have told them that most people in Ireland carry the red hair gene and a whopping 46% of people in Ireland carry the recessive freckle gene.
Scotland is number two on the list, but some statisticians think it may be number one. About 6% of the population has red hair, and many believe it’s as high as 13%. It is no surprise that the Scots and Irish share genes, so it also comes as no surprise that Scots have more red hair than other countries.
It is also true that people with red hair can produce their own Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, teeth, and the overall immune system. This is another reason why many people have red hair in Scotland: the gloomy weather in the country won’t allow people there to develop sufficient amounts of Vitamin D naturally.
Wales is also a Celtic country that makes up the United Kingdom. Coming in at number three on the list, about 5-6% of the population in Wales has red hair. Some estimates put the number as high as 10%, though.
Most redheads usually have green, brown, or hazel eyes. Only a small amount have blue eyes. Some famous Welsh people with red hair include Rugby player Martin Williams, television presenter Alex Jones, and Lord Neil Kinnock.
With a country of 330 million, the United States has the most redheads in the world. This, of course, does not mean they have the most redheads per capita. Between 2-6% of the population, or about 18 million, have red hair.
The high occurrence of redheads most likely stemmed from immigration. In the 1800s, there was an above-average immigrant pool from Ireland because the Great Famine caused a mass exodus from Ireland to other countries. According to the National Museum of Ireland, about 6 million Irish people have emigrated to the United States since 1820. Moreover, 81% of immigrants between 1851 and 1860 were Irish. Today, a whopping 35 million people claim to have Irish heritage.
England is part of Great Britain, so it makes sense they would be on this list. The number of people with red hair in England is much less than in Ireland and Scotland. About 4% of the population in England have red hair.
Scottish geneticists have figured that a whopping 33% of England’s population carries the gene that causes people to be born with red hair. Some famous English people with red hair include Prince Harry, former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, and actor Rupert Grint.
Many people assume that red hair comes from Nordic or Scandinavian countries, but that is untrue. A small percentage, albeit larger than most other countries, have red hair. Most Scandinavians or Nordic people have blond hair.
Many movies even picture Vikings with red hair, but historians have debunked this myth; they had blond hair. However, Vikings did carry the red hair gene, which was then brought to the Celtic countries of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England.
Other Places in the World
It is said that red hair originated in Central Asia. Although today, the occurrence of red hair is less frequent than in the Celtic countries, it still happens. In Russia, the Udmurt people who live in the Volga region have a higher percentage of redheads than the rest of the country. The Ashkenazi Jewish population also has a higher prevalence of red hair. In Morocco, the Berber and Riffian populations are said to have significantly more redheads than other Moroccan populations.
Furthermore, red hair is found in several Asian countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Mongolia. Lastly, red hair is common in some tribes in Polynesia, so much so that Polynesians believed red hair was a sign of higher ranking.
Why Do People Have Red Hair?
Red hair is only found in about 1-2% of people worldwide, so the question is, why do people have red hair? How did this come about? Geneticists have come out with studies to figure this out. They hypothesized that people in colder climates have naturally lighter skin and have higher levels of Vitamin D production. This meant that people developed red hair through a gene called MC1R to ensure Vitamin D production in areas without sun. Historians and geneticists have concluded that red hair started popping up in humans between 20,000 and 100,000 years ago.
And there you have it: those are the top five countries with the most redheads. We saw the prevalence of these countries for redheads. Even though worldwide, the percentage is extremely low; these five countries have higher numbers than the rest.
Of course, this low prevalence worldwide has led to associations with having red hair. Historically, several cultures believed that those with red hair had tempers and were hot-headed. Another stereotype considered by many long ago was that they were prone to being sexed or lustful. The negative discrimination towards people with red hair continued for centuries, and even today, there is slight discrimination. On social media, you can see posts titled “Kick a Redhead Day.”
This discrimination prompted redheaded people to come together. “Redhead Day” festivals have popped up around the world, including in the Netherlands, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Israel, Russia, and the United States. All of these festivals aim to make redheaded people proud of their hair color. The bigger aim is also to discourage bullying and discrimination, and rightfully so.
The Top 5 Countries With The Most Redheads
|Red Hair Prevalence
|10% (15% estimate)
|6% (10% estimate)
|5-6% (10% estimate)
The photo featured at the top of this post is © carles miro/iStock via Getty Images
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