Differences between seven-year birth cohorts in physical functioning (as measured by independence in activities of daily living) are compared with corresponding inter-cohort differences in perceived health, in people aged 75 years and over. Age-period-cohort models were fitted to two linked cross-sectional surveys undertaken in 1981 (N = 1,203) and 1988 (N = 1,579). The proportion of older people who were dependent in ADLs was lower in succeeding cohorts but, by contrast, the proportion with less than good self-perceived health was higher. These inter-cohort differences in perceived health were particularly marked for the comparison between 1981 and 1988 of men aged 75-81 years in the dependent subpopulation. Furthermore, self-perceived health remained as strong a predictor of mortality in 1988 as in 1981. Self-perceived health may be indexing a higher prevalence of mild chronic conditions in newer cohorts of older people, with implications for primary health care providers.