A team of seven anthropologists conducted a coordinated, cross- cultural investigation to examine how structural and cultural variables shape the strategies people employ to assure themselves a secure old age. Central to the investigation was the goal of determining how people in the societies involved (Hong Kong, the United States, Ireland, and Botswana) perceive old age and its place in the adult life course, e.g. whether they view old age as an improvement or a decrement compared with other stages of life and the characteristics on which they base their views. The seven sites were selected to ensure broad representation in terms of the key structural variables of scale, complexity, subsistence pattern, residential mobility, and population structure. Both across and within sites people differed in their willingness and ability to discuss the concept of the life course. We attribute this variation to five factors: (i) characteristics of the social field, (2) education, (3) cultural salience of age categorisation, (4) predictability of life events, and (5) variability in timing of normative social or work roles.