The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of reported asthma symptoms in French elderly people according to age, sex and principal lifetime occupation. PAQUID (Personnes Agées QUID) is a cohort of 3777 subjects, aged 65 years and over, living at home in the south-west of France. The aim of PAQUID is to study factors of cerebral and functional ageing. This cross-sectional study took place during the third year of the PAQUID follow-up, and concerned 2406 subjects (63.7% of the initial sample). Two questions were introduced into the PAQUID general questionnaire: "have you ever had asthma?' (cumulative asthma), and "did you have at least one asthma attack in the last 12 months?' (current asthma). Of 2355 subjects, 144 (6.1%) reported asthma history at some point in their life. For 58 (40.3%) subjects, it was in the previous 12 months. In men, the prevalence rate was 7.3% for cumulative asthma and 2.8% for current asthma. In women, rates were 5.2% and 2.2%, respectively. The rates were lower at advanced ages (> 85 years) for both males and females. They were particularly high in former farm workers; 13% reported cumulative asthma and 11% reported at least one asthma attack in the previous 12 months. Farmers appear to have a higher risk of both cumulative [odds ratio (OR): 2.30; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.00-5.47] and current asthma (OR: 5.35; 95% CI: 1.33-21.50) compared to white collar workers, despite adjustments on age, sex and smoking history. The risk was also significant for manual workers, but only for cumulative asthma.