The social functioning of 120 patients (114 women) with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) was studied. The proportion of Chinese, Japanese and Native Indians was greater than expected. Familial incidences of SLE (12.5%) and rheumatoid arthritis (17.5%) were high. Sixty-one women had 76 pregnancies after the onset of SLE; although fetal wastage was common, outcomes were otherwise satisfactory. Social difficulties worsened with disease exacerbations, drug reactions and delay in diagnosis. Thirty-three percent completed their education after the onset of SLE. Sixty-three percent with a work history were employed and 52% were totally or partially self-supporting. Patients experienced problems with self-image (20%), sexual functioning (4%) and lifestyle (17%). SLE was not a barrier to marriage or a primary cause of divorce: 40% married after the onset of SLE and 12.5% had a history of divorce. In summary, SLE patients can function well socially; it is imperative to recognize the difficulties and provide support.