Respiratory symptoms, disease and lung function were studied in 376 families with 816 children who participated in a survey in three USA towns. Parental smoking had no effect on children's symptoms and lung function. Also, there was no evidence that passive smoking affected either lung function or symptoms of adults. There was no association between prevalence of self-reported cough and/or phlegm in parents and their children. There was a highly significant association between the prevalence of wheeze in parents and their younger children, for whom parents reported this symptom. Wheeze in children was also significantly associated with a parental history of asthma, and lung function was lower in children with a family history of asthma. Even after accounting for height, weight, age, sex and race, children's lung function correlated significantly with parents' lung function. However, the contribution of familial factors (i.e., parents' lung function, smoking, and history of asthma) to children's lung function is small compared to the effects of height, weight and age.