We examined the relationship between age and urinary excretion of free cortisol in acutely stressed middle-aged and elderly persons. We observed that elderly persons under stress excreted larger amounts of urinary-free cortisol than did middle-aged persons; Pearson's r between age and cortisol = 0.38, p less than 0.05. When the sample was stratified by severity of depressive symptoms, the relationship between age and cortisol excretion was strongly accentuated among those with severe depressive symptoms (r = 0.62, p = 0.01) and diminished among those with milder symptoms (r = 0.25, N.S.). Potentially confounding factors such as diet, use of medications, and physical stature were controlled and did not explain the observations. The high depression scores in this acutely stressed sample were indicative of a higher severity of stress response and also a higher risk of occurrence of depressive syndromes. The depressive syndromes did not resemble depressive disorder of an endogenous nature.