Near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) has been used to measure concentration changes of cerebral hemoglobin and cytochrome in neonates, children, and adults, to study cerebral oxygenation and hemodynamics. To derive quantitative concentration changes from measurements of light attenuation, the optical path length must be known. This is obtained by multiplying the source/ detector separation by a laboratory measured differential path length factor (DPF) which accounts for the increased distance traveled by light due to scattering. DPF has been measured by time of flight techniques on small populations of adults and postmortem infants. The values for adults are greater than those for newborns, and it is not clear how to interpolate the present data for studies on children. Recent developments in instrumentation using phase resolved spectroscopy techniques have produced a bedside unit which can measure optical path length on any subject. We have developed an intensity modulated optical spectrometer which measures path length at four wavelengths. Two hundred and eighty three subjects from 1 d of age to 50 y were studied. Measurements were made at a fixed frequency of 200 MHz and a source detector separation of 4.5 cm. Results suggest a slowly varying age dependence of DPF, following the relation DPF690 = 5.38 + 0.049A0.877, DPF744 = 5.11 + 0.106A0.723, DPF807 = 4.99 + 0.067A0.814, and DPF832 = 4.67 + 0.062A0.819, where DPF690 is the DPF measured at 690 nm and A is age is expressed in years from full term. There was a wide scatter of values, however, implying that ideally DPF should be measured at the time of each study.