Background. Stereotypes of older people suggest that they are depressed. Aims. To examine depression symptoms among people aged ≥ 65 in the general population and to ask the following questions. Are there high proportions of depressive symptoms among otherwise well people? Do these levels reflect the prevalence of depression? Do key symptoms vary with age and do they confirm stereotypes? Method. Nine centres contributed data from community-based random samples, using standardised methods (GMS-AGECAT package). Results. Proportions of depressive symptoms varied between centres. Some often associated with ageing were rare. Many were more common in women. Low- prevalence centres tended to have fewer symptoms among 'well' people, but there were inconsistencies. Low levels of symptoms among the well population of a centre did not necessarily predict lower levels in the depressed. Conclusions. Variations in the prevalence of depressive symptoms occurred between centres, not always related to levels of illness. There was no consistent relationship between proportions of symptoms in well persons and cases for all centres. Few symptoms were present in > 60% of the older population - stereotypes of old age were not upheld.