An earlier age at onset of schizophrenia in men as opposed to women, has been widely reported, but hitherto, insufficient account has been taken of parameters that might confound this finding. Furthermore, few explanatory models have accounted for the differences in shape of the age-at-onset distributions in males and females with schizophrenia. A catchment area sample of 477 first contact cases with schizophrenia or related disorders was ascertained through a case register. Differences in age at onset distributions between males and females were determined, and adjustment made for potential confounding factors. The most powerful predictors of early illness-onset were poor premorbid occupational functioning, single marital status, and male sex. The earlier onset in males was robust to controlling for other parameters. The shape of the onset distribution also differed between the sexes: SKUMIX analysis revealed a two-peak distribution for males, and a three-peak distribution for females. The mean age at onset for schizophrenia is earlier in males, and the onset distribution differs between the sexes. Psychosocial variables cannot explain these findings. Possible explanations for these gender differences include males and females being differentially susceptible to subtypes of illness with different mean ages at onset; precipitating and/or ameliorating factors operating at different stages of life in males and females; and/or an X-linked susceptibility locus that determines the age at onset.