Age-related bone loss has been attributed to a decline in bone formation due to decreased osteoblast function. However, studies examining the relationship between age or menopausal status and indices of bone formation such as serum osteocalcin have yielded conflicting results. To examine these relationships we studied indices of bone formation and resorption and bone mineral density in 247 normal women, including 96 postmenopausal women ranging in age from 20-75 yr. A cubic polynomial regression best fit the relationship between age and serum osteocalcin (r = 0.32; n = 228; P = 0.0001) and urinary hydroxyproline/creatinine excretion (r = 0.40; n = 228; P = 0.0001), with both indices declining before the menopause, rising at the menopause, and subsequently falling through the seventh and eighth decades. While a significant decline in osteocalcin levels was observed in the postmenopausal group older than 60 yr, levels in subjects older than 60 yr remained higher (+31%) than those in late premenopausal subjects. Urinary calcium to creatinine excretion rose in the premenopausal years, increased markedly after the menopause, and remained at this level subsequently. Urinary hydroxyproline/creatinine, but not serum osteocalcin or urinary calcium/creatinine excretion, was a significant predictor of bone mineral density at the lumbar spine and the femoral neck independent of age. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that age-related bone loss after the menopause occurs in the presence of initially increased but subsequently decreasing bone turnover with maintenance of a relative excess of bone resorption.