There are considerable differences in haemopoietic activity between young children and adults on the one hand, and between adults and the elderly on the other. A fundamental unanswered question is whether these differences relate to discrete stages or are part of a continuous process. We have sought to define aspects of the haematological ageing process, and have found that results from children with bone marrow failure syndromes differ from age-matched reference values. Haemopoietic cells were obtained from umbilical cord blood, from blood and bone marrow of healthy individuals and from the blood of young patients with bone marrow failure syndromes. Clonogenic myeloid progenitors (CFU-GM) were grown in semi-solid medium to measure their frequency; the proliferative capacity of myeloid progenitors was measured by replating colonies and observing secondary colony formation. We found that the frequency of CFU-GM in normal marrow increased and their proliferative capacity decreased exponentially with age. The proliferative capacity of CFU-GM in normal blood also decreased exponentially with age. This relationship extrapolated back to the levels of proliferation measured for cord blood CFU-GM (age = 0). The proliferative capacities of CFU-GM from children with bone marrow failure syndromes were severely reduced compared with age-matched reference values. These results indicate that a decline in haemopoietic progenitor cell function begins at birth and continues throughout life. This decline may occur prematurely in childhood marrow failure syndromes with a predisposition to leukaemia.