Background (purifying) selection on deleterious mutations is expected to remove linked neutral mutations from a population, resulting in a positive correlation between recombination rate and levels of neutral genetic variation, even for markers with high mutation rates. We tested this prediction of the background selection model by comparing recombination rate and levels of microsatellite polymorphism in humans. Published data for 28 unrelated Europeans were used to estimate microsatellite polymorphism (number of alleles, heterozygosity, and variance in allele size) for loci throughout the genome. Recombination rates were estimated from comparisons of genetic and physical maps. First, we analyzed 61 loci from chromosome 22, using the complete sequence of this chromosome to provide exact physical locations. These 61 microsatellites showed no correlation between levels of variation and recombination rate. We then used radiation-hybrid and cytogenetic maps to calculate recombination rates throughout the genome. Recombination rates varied by more than one order of magnitude, and most chromosomes showed significant suppression of recombination near the centromere. Genome-wide analyses provided no evidence for a strong positive correlation between recombination rate and polymorphism, although analyses of loci with at least 20 repeats suggested a weak positive correlation. Comparisons of microsatellites in lowest-recombination and highest-recombination regions also revealed no difference in levels of polymorphism. Together, these results indicate that background selection is not a major determinant of microsatellite variation in humans.