We evaluated the role of occupational factors on the prevalence of self-reported asthma, chronic bronchitis, and asthma-like respiratory symptoms among women >= 55 yr. Occupational history, smoking, and respiratory conditions were collected through an interviewer-administered questionnaire from 1,226 women. Lung function data from 820 subjects were used for group "validation" of the outcome variables. Significant associations were observed between the respiratory conditions and occupational groupings based on the longest occupation held. Artists, writers, decorators, and photographers (odds ratio [OR] = 3.1), and women in service occupations (OR = 2.4) had a significantly increased risk of asthma. The odds of asthma-like symptoms was significantly elevated among nurses and other nonphysician health workers (OR = 2.9), social workers (OR = 2.9), and homemakers (OR = 2.4). Exposure to dusts, gas, vapors, fumes, or sensitizers was associated with a significantly increased odds of asthma (OR = 1.8) and with a marginally significant increased odds of asthma-like symptoms (OR = 1.4). Smoking accounted for a large proportion of asthma and asthma-like conditions in this population (population attributable risk [PAR] = 40.5% and 35.0%, respectively); employment in occupations with a high probability of exposures to dusts, gas, vapors, fumes, or sensitizers also contributed significantly to the burden of asthma (PAR = 15.1 to 20.0%) and asthma-like symptoms (PAR = 7.5 to 10.2%).