Whether life is spent in good health or disability has a critical influence on the use of health-care services. It is also known that average healthy life expectancy differs by sex. This paper reports estimations of healthy and unhealthy life expectancy in old age using self-reported health assessments for the City of São Paulo, Brazil in 2000–01. The data derived from the Health, Well-being and Aging in Latin America and the Caribbean Project (SABE), and from population censuses and mortality statistics. Sullivan's estimation method was used. It combines the age-specific schedule of the current probabilities of death with the prevalence of self-perceived ‘poor’ and ‘good’ health. The paper also reports multivariate analyses of the factors associated with variations by age group and sex in self-perceived health. The findings revealed that, at all ages, women live longer than men and for more years in a healthy state. Among men, those aged 60, 65 and 70 years were expected to live a higher percentage of their remaining life than women in a healthy state, but among those aged 75, 80 and 85 years, the opposite held. Among women, the percentage of remaining years that were unhealthy did not increase as age increased, which differs from previous findings. The multivariate analyses showed that with increasing age, for women the number of chronic diseases decreased but dependency increased, and for men the opposite held. This finding indicated that the percentage of life spent in poor self-perceived health more accurately predicts mortality in men than women.