Bone mineral density (BMD) and fracture rates vary among women of differing ethnicities. Most reports suggest that BMD is highest in African-Americans, lowest in Asians, and intermediate in Caucasians, yet Asians have lower fracture rates than Caucasians. To assess the contributions of anthropometric and lifestyle characteristics to ethnic differences in BMD, we assessed lumbar spine and femoral neck BMD by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry in 2277 (for the lumbar spine) and 2330 (for the femoral neck) premenopausal or early perimenopausal women (mean age, 46.2 yr) participating in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. Forty-nine percent of the women were Caucasian, 28% were African-American, 12% were Japanese, and 11% were Chinese. BMDs were compared among ethnic groups before and after adjustment for covariates. Before adjustment, lumbar spine and femoral neck BMDs were highest in African-American women, next highest in Caucasian women, and lowest in Chinese and Japanese women. Unadjusted lumbar spine and femoral neck BMDs were 7-12% and 14-24% higher, respectively, in African-American women than in Caucasians, Japanese, or Chinese women. After adjustment, lumbar spine and femoral neck BMD remained highest in African-American women, and there were no significant differences between the remaining groups. When BMD was assessed in a subset of women weighing less than 70 kg and then adjusted for covariates, lumbar spine BMD became similar in African-American, Chinese, and Japanese women and was lowest in Caucasian women. Adjustment for bone size increased values for Chinese women to levels equal to or above those of Caucasian and Japanese women. Among women of comparable weights, there are no differences in lumbar spine BMD among African-American, Chinese, and Japanese women, all of whom have higher BMDs than Caucasians. Femoral neck BMD is highest in African-Americans and similar in Chinese, Japanese, and Caucasians. These findings may explain why Caucasian women have higher fracture rates than African-Americans and Asians.