An ethnic group or ethnicity is a category of people who identify with each other, usually on the basis of presumed similarities such as a common language, ancestry, history, society, culture, nation, race or social treatment within their residing area. Ethnicity is often used synonymously with the term nation, particularly in cases of ethnic nationalism, and is separate from, but related to the concept of races.
Ethnicity is usually an inherited status based on the society in which one lives. Membership of an ethnic group tends to be defined by a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, origin myth, history, homeland, language or dialect, symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, art or physical appearance. Ethnic groups often continue to speak related languages and share a similar gene pool. By way of language shift, acculturation, adoption and religious conversion, it is sometimes possible for individuals or groups to leave one ethnic group and become part of another. The social construct that ethnic groups share a similar gene pool has been contradicted within the scientific community as evidenced by data finding more genetic variation within ethnic groups compared to between ethnic groups.
The smallest groups are often limited to a few dozen individuals (numerous indigenous peoples worldwide). Ethnic groups may be subdivided into subgroups or tribes, which over time may become separate ethnic groups themselves due to endogamy or physical isolation from the parent group. Conversely, formerly separate ethnicities can merge to form a pan-ethnicity and may eventually merge into one single ethnicity. Whether through division or amalgamation, the formation of a separate ethnic identity is referred to as ethnogenesis.