Healthy individuals with African ancestry have lower neutrophil counts than Caucasians. It has previously been postulated that this was consequent on either a diminished bone marrow granulocyte reserve or an altered distribution of neutrophils between the circulating and marginated granulocyte pools. Recent indirect evidence supports the former hypothesis. In this study we have compared the number of granulocyte plus granulocyte-macrophage colony-forming units (CFUs) in the bone marrow of healthy African and Afro-Caribbean subjects with the number of CFUs in the bone marrow of healthy age and sex-matched Caucasians. We found the group with African ancestry to have significantly fewer CFUs than the Caucasian group. There was no evidence of any qualitative difference between the CFUs of the two ethnic groups: they showed similar sensitivity to granulocyte-monocyte colony stimulating factor and similar enhancement of growth when cultured with a larger range of cytokines. These observations suggest that ethnic neutropenia observed in those with African ancestry is likely to result from reduced numbers of bone marrow progenitor cells in comparison with numbers present in Caucasians.