It has previously been reported that aging is associated with a substantial decrease in diaphragm strength. To test this hypothesis we studied 15 (10 male, 5 female) subjects with a mean age of 29 (range 21 to 40) and 15 elderly (10 male, 5 female) subjects, mean age 73 (range 67 to 81). We measured transdiaphragmatic pressure (Pdi) during a maximal sniff (Sniff Pdi) and during bilateral cervical magnetic stimulation (CMS) of the phrenic nerve roots (Tw Pdi). Additionally in 17 subjects (9 elderly and 8 young) the Pdi elicited by paired CMS (pTw Pdi) was obtained at interstimulus intervals ranging from 10 to 999 ms (1 to 100 Hz). There was considerable overlap between groups. Mean Sniff Pdi in the elderly was 119 cm H2O compared with 136 cm H2O for the young subjects; this represented a median reduction of 18 cm H2O or 13% (p = 0.05, 95% Cl of difference 0 to 33 cm H2O). Mean Twitch Pdi in the elderly was 26.8 cm H2O compared with 35.2 cm H2O, a median reduction of 8 cm H2O or 23% (p = 0.004, 95% Cl 3 to 13 cm H2O). At 10 Hz the elderly tended to generate a higher fraction of the Pdi obtained at 100 Hz than the young, but this trend did not achieve statistical significance (p = 0.11). We conclude that aging is associated with a reduction in diaphragm strength. However the magnitude of the reduction is small and may be offset by a leftward shift of the force-frequency relationship.