To assess the role of demographic factors and chronic conditions in maintaining mobility in older persons, this study utilized longitudinal data collected as part of the Established Populations for Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly between 1981 and 1987 on 6,981 men and women aged 65 years and older in East Boston, Massachusetts; Iowa and Washington counties, Iowa; and New Haven, Connecticut. Results are presented for those who at baseline reported intact mobility, defined as the ability to climb stairs and walk a half mile without help, and who were followed annually for up to 4 years for changes in mobility status. Age, income, education, and chronic conditions present at baseline and occurring during follow-up were evaluated for their association with loss of mobility. Over the follow-up period, 55.1% of subjects maintained mobility, 36.2% lost mobility, and 8.7% died without evidence of mobility loss prior to death. In both men and women, increasing age and lower income levels were associated with increased risk of losing mobility, even after controlling for the presence of chronic conditions at baseline. After adjustment for age, income, and chronic conditions, lower education levels were a significant risk factor for mobility loss in men, but not in women. Baseline reports of previous heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, dyspnea, and exertional leg pain were associated with small but significant risks for mobility loss. There was a stepwise increase in the risk of mobility loss according to the number of chronic conditions present at baseline that was very consistent between men and women. The occurrence during the study of a new heart attack, stroke, cancer, or hip fracture was associated with a substantially greater risk of mobility loss than was associated with the presence of these conditions at baseline.