While noninvasive studies of bone mass and turnover in blacks and whites abound, histologic evaluations are very rare. We have performed a comparative bone histomorphometric study of iliac biopsies from 55 healthy, premenopausal women including 21 blacks (mean age 33.4 + 1.2 years) and 34 whites (mean age 32.5 + 0.8 years) of comparable age, weight, body composition, education, and lifestyle. Biochemical indices of mineral metabolism: parathyroid hormone, 25-hydroxyvitamin D, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, serum ionized calcium, serum phosphorus, and urinary calcium/creatinine were measured in the fasting state. Blacks had lower 25-hydroxyvitamin D (315 +/- 3.36 vs. 63.21 +/- 3.79 nmol/l, p = 0.0001). Histomorphometric indices of bone volume, structure, and connectivity were not different between groups. The following indices of bone remodeling were also similar in both groups: eroded perimeter, osteoid width, mineralizing perimeter, tissue-based bone formation rate, osteoid maturation time, active formation period, and activation frequency. However, osteoid perimeter (black [B] = 15.85 +/- 1.30 vs. white [W] = 9.49 +/- 0.70%, p = 0.0002), osteoid area (B = 2.55 +/- 0.32 vs. W = 1.39 +/- 0.12%, p = 0.003), single-labeled perimeter (B = 5.46 +/- 0.54 vs. W = 4.04 +/- 0.33%, p = 0.03), mineralization lag time (B = 38.18 +/- 4.04 vs. W = 21.83 +/- 1.60 days, p < 0.009), and total formation period (B = 148.15 +/- 19.70 vs. W = 84.04 +/- 7.62 days, p = 0.0056) were higher in blacks than in whites. The quiescent perimeter (B = 76.91 +/- 1.40 vs. W = 84.25 +/- 0.91%, p = 0.0001), mineral apposition rate (B = 0.70 +/- 0.02 vs. W = 0.75 +/- 0.02 micron/day, p = 0.066), mineralizing osteoid perimeter (B = 0.49 +/- 0.04 vs. W = 0.75 +/- 0.04%, p = 0.0001) and adjusted apposition rate (B = 0.35 +/- 0.04 vs. W = 0.58 +/- 0.04 micron3/micron2/day, p = 0.0001) were all lower in blacks than in whites. These results indicate that there are no differences in bone volume, microstructure, or turnover between black and white premenopausal women. However, there are significant differences in the mechanism of bone formation between the two groups, with a lower rate of mineralized matrix apposition within each remodeling unit and a longer total formation period in blacks than in whites. The differences appear to the result of more frequent and/or longer inactive periods in the life span of the bone formation units in blacks. These differences may allow a greater overall deposition of bone mineral in black women and therefore help explain a higher bone mass and perhaps better bone quality in black than white women.