We examined the prevalence of clinical and immunologic features of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) by race, sex and age in a population-based study of 265 SLE patients. Patients fulfilled the American College of Rheumatology classification criteria. The median time between diagnosis and study enrollment was 13 months. The clinical and hematologic data were limited to occurrences up to 6 months after the diagnosis date, as documented in medical records. We used sera collected at study enrollment from 244 (92%) patients for serologic testing of autoantibodies. The associations between clinical and immunological features of SLE and age, sex and race were examined using logistic regression. The effect of each of these variables was examined adjusting for the other two demographic factors. Mean age at diagnosis was 6 years younger among African-Americans and other minorities compared with white patients (P < 0.01). Discoid lupus, proteinuria, anti-Sm and anti-RNP autoantibodies were more commonly seen in African-American patients, with odds ratios higher than 3.0. Photosensitivity and mucosal ulcers were noted less often in African-American patients. Proteinuria, leukopenia, lymphopenia and thrombocytopenia were approximately three times more common in men compared with women. The prevalence of oral or nasal ulcers and anti-DNA autoantibodies declined with age. The extent to which the differences we observed reflect genetic or environmental influences on the disease process should be investigated.