To determine whether premenopausal daughters of women with postmenopausal osteoporosis have lower bone mass than other women of the same age, we measured the bone mineral content of the lumbar spine and femoral neck and midshaft, using dual-photon absorptiometry, in 25 postmenopausal women with osteoporotic compression fractures and in 32 of their premenopausal daughters; we then compared the results with those in normal controls. As compared with normal postmenopausal women, women with osteoporosis had lower bone mineral content in the lumbar spine, femoral neck, and femoral midshaft by 33, 24, and 15 percent, respectively (P less than 0.001 for each comparison by the one-tailed t-test). As compared with normal premenopausal women, the daughters of women with osteoporosis had lower bone mineral content at these sites by 7, 5, and 3 percent, respectively (P = 0.03, 0.07, and 0.15, respectively, by the one-tailed t-test). In terms of a standardized score, we calculated that the mean (+/- SEM) relative deficits in bone mineral content in the daughters of women with osteoporosis were 58 +/- 18 percent (lumbar spine) and 34 +/- 16 percent (femoral neck) of the relative deficits in their mothers. We conclude that daughters of women with osteoporosis have reduced bone mass in the lumbar spine and perhaps in the femoral neck; this reduction in bone mass may put them at increased risk for fractures. We also conclude that postmenopausal osteoporosis may result partly from a relatively low peak bone mass rather than from excessive loss of bone.