The real--Re(Z)--and imaginary--Im(Z)--parts of the ventilatory system impedance were measured between 6 and 30 Hz in 18 normal infants and in 19 with airway obstruction. The intercept (R0) and slope (S) of the Re(Z)-frequency function, as well as inertance (I) and compliance (C) estimated from Im(Z), were compared with ventilatory system resistance (Rrs) and compliance (Crs) (single-breath method). R0 correlated significantly with Rrs (r = 0.86), although the slope of the regression equation was significantly lower than 1 (P less than 0.01). Negative frequency dependence of Re(Z) was observed in all subjects and a significant correlation was found between S and Rrs (r = -0.80). "Inertance" was negative in 20 subjects and correlated negatively with Rrs (r = -0.61). C correlated with Crs (r = 0.64) and with 1/Rrs (r = 0.85). The ratio of C to Crs (mean +/- SD = 0.168 +/- 0.082) also correlated with 1/Rrs (r = 0.51). The main characteristics of the total impedance/frequency function could be simulated with a model featuring the upper airway wall (Zuaw) in parallel with the ventilatory system (Zrs). It is suggested that the differential change in Zuaw and Zrs with growth accounts for the marked frequency dependence of Re(Z) as well as the inaccurate estimation of both I and C in this population.