The neural substrates of age-related memory differences were evaluated by recording event-related potentials (ERPs) from young and older adults during a recognition memory paradigm. Subjects studied two temporally distinct lists of sentences (each with two nouns) and were tested for their memory of the nouns and of the list (i.e. temporal source) in which they had occurred. Compared with the young, the old showed a greater source than item memory performance decrement. Both age groups showed equivalent posterior-maximal old/new ERP effects. However, only the young produced a frontal-maximal, late onset old/new effect that differed as a function of subsequent source attribution. Age-related explicit memory differences may be due to a deficit in a prefrontal cortical system that underlies source memory.