Comparisons of the health status of 1971 and 1983 samples of elderly persons in Manitoba, Canada suggest that while elderly individuals were living longer in 1983, their health was poorer. This was true in both age- and sex-specific comparisons and in comparisons made of individuals in the two samples who were relatively close to death. 'Compression of morbidity' has not taken place. Elderly individuals in the 1983 sample were in poorer health whether judged by functional status (ability to perform activities of daily living), number of different health problems reported, mental status or the rate of hospitalization for serious co-morbid disease. We estimate a 29% increase in the number of elderly persons resident in Manitoba over the 12 year period studied, but a 73% increase in the number of elderly who were in poor health.