Elderly (80+ year old) individuals are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. The objective of this study was to use population-based data to examine trends in the number of elderly undergoing major general, vascular, and cardiothoracic surgical procedures. California inpatient data from 1990-2000 was used to identify patients undergoing six procedures: abdominal aortic aneurysm repair (AAA), coronary artery bypass graft (CABG), carotid endarterectomy (CEA), colon resections, lung resections, and pancreatic resections. Despite comprising only 2.7 per cent of the California population, elderly patients were a significant percentage (6-22%) of the caseloads for the six procedures examined. For all six procedures, the percentage of patients that were elderly increased during the study period. The age-specific incidence rates for elderly individuals increased significantly for three of these procedures (CABG, CEA, lung resection), remained unchanged for two (AAA, pancreas resection), and decreased for one (colon resection). Elderly patients are a large and growing part of surgical caseloads. In the near future, the number of elderly individuals in the California state and the U.S. populations will increase dramatically (41% and 35% between 2000 and 2020). To provide the best quality of care, surgeons should embrace research, training, and educational opportunities regarding the treatment of elderly patients.