The incidence of allotypes of the genes of the fourth component (C4) and factor B of the complement system was compared in 252 persons under 45 years of age ("young" group) with 482 people between 61 and 90 years of age ("old" group). One hundred people older than 90 years of age (nonagenarians) were also investigated. A striking difference was found between the "young" and "old" groups in the incidence (16.1% and 5.4%, respectively) of a silent gene of the C4B allele (C4B*Q0). This difference was even more marked among "young" and "old" men (17.6% vs 3.4%). The incidence of the C4B*Q0 allele in women dropped to the level of the men only in the nonagenarian group. The most probable explanation for this finding is that people carrying the C4B*Q0 allele die from as yet unidentified disease(s) in their middle-age. Therefore, male (and to a lesser extent female) carriers of this allele may have a considerably shorter life expectancy than individuals without a silent gene in the C4B locus.