Age-related lens opacities are common and are a frequent cause of loss of vision. The Beaver Dam Eye Study was designed to estimate the prevalence and severity of lens opacities in a rural community in the United States. Adults between the ages of 43 and 84 years, identified by private census, were examined and participated in the study (n = 4926). Photographs were taken of the lenses and were graded in masked fashion according to a standardized protocol. For nuclear sclerosis, more severe levels occurred more commonly in older age groups and in women. Overall, 17.3% had nuclear sclerosis more severe than level 3 in a 5-step scale of severity. Cortical opacities increased with increasing age and were more common in women. They were found in 16.3% of the population. Posterior subcapsular opacities occur in 6.0% of the population. There was a significant trend of greater prevalence at older ages, but no sex effect. The frequency of early cataract increased in both sexes through the age group 65 to 74 years, but declined in those 75 years of age and older. The frequency of late cataract increased consistently with age. Women were more severely affected than men. This study confirms that lens opacities are common in adults in the United States. These data are important for providing for social and health care needs. It is important to determine causes of cataracts in order to develop preventive programs.