As part of an evaluation of the patient education component of the Australian Asthma Management plan, a randomized, controlled trial of asthma education was conducted in 1994/95 at the outpatient asthma and allergy clinic of The Alfred Hospital, a tertiary referral hospital in Melbourne, Australia. The objective of the study was to investigate which demographic and clinical characteristics were associated with attendance at asthma educational session. A total of 125 asthmatics aged over 16 years agreed to participate in the programme, and full compliance with the programme was 43.2%. Allocation to immediate, rather than delayed, education and age were the only significant predictors of attendance. Subjects randomized to the intervention were approximately three times more likely to attend than control subjects (OR = 3.3, 95% CI 1.5-7.3). Asthmatics over 60 years old were approximately six times more likely to attend (OR = 6.6, 95% CI 2.2-19.8) than the age group 16-30 years. The increasing trend in attendance across age categories was highly significant (P < 0.001). There was no relationship between attendance and gender, medication, atopy, smoking status or the physical accessibility of the hospital. Despite offering incentives and conducting the education sessions at subjects' preferred times, their compliance in attending sessions was poor. Over half of the asthmatics, who had expressed interest, failed to attend for their educational sessions. An alternative strategy is required to improve participation by young and employed asthmatics at hospital-based asthma education programmes.