The extent to which greater bone strength in men is caused by proportionately greater bone mass versus bigger bone size is not clear, primarily because the larger overall body size of men has made direct comparisons of skeletal measures difficult. We examined gender differences in femur neck (FN) areal bone mineral density (BMD) values collected from 5,623 non-Hispanic whites aged 20+ years in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III, 1988-1994) before and after correction for measured height and weight. We supplemented the conventional areal BMD data (Hologic QDR 1000) with measurements of areal BMD and geometric properties (subperiosteal width, section modulus, and cortical thickness) made at narrow "cross-sectional" regions traversing the FN and the proximal shaft using a structural analysis program. Before body size adjustment, men had significantly higher values than women for all variables at the three measurement sites (p < 0.0001). Adjustment for body size reduced the differences between the sexes for all variables but had a greater effect on BMD (1-8% higher in men) than on geometry (5-17% higher in men). When examined by age, the sex discrepancy was significantly greater in the older group for all variables except subperiosteal widths. We conclude that although body size difference may account for most of the areal BMD difference between men and women, male bones are still bigger in ways that suggest greater bone strength. These differences may contribute importantly to lower fracture risk in men.