Few current population-based data on visual impairment are available. Visual acuity and impairment were measured in 4926 people between the ages of 43 and 86 years in the defined population participating in the Beaver Dam Eye Study. Visual acuity was measured after refraction, using standardized protocols. Of a possible maximum score of 70 (20/10), the mean number of letters correctly identified (right eye) varied from 55.7 (20/20, n = 1515) in people between the ages of 43 and 54 years to 41.2 (20/40, n = 795) in people 75 years of age or older. Age-specific mean visual acuity scores were consistently and significantly lower in women, who identified three fewer letters on the average than men. Rates of any visual impairment (20/40 or worse in the better eye) or legal blindness (20/200 or worse in the better eye), increased from 0.8% and 0.1%, respectively, in people between the ages of 43 and 54 years to 21.1% and 2.0%, respectively, in people 75 years of age or older. Multivariate analyses showed both sex (women) and age (older) to be significant and independent predictors of poorer visual acuity.