This article aims to identify and analyse the lifecourse and contextual factors that influence the quality of life in early old age. We conceptualise quality of life as distinct from the factors which influence it, and employ a model of the quality of life that is derived from an explicit theory of human need. The operational measure (CASP-19) consists of 19 Likert-scaled items which cover four theoretical domains: control, autonomy, self-realisation and pleasure. A postal questionnaire was sent to 286 British people aged 65–75 years who were members of the sample for the 1930s Boyd-Orr study of health and diet and who had been followed up through retrospective interviews during the late 1990s. The 286 were broadly representative of their age group. The survey's response rate was 92 per cent. Respondents provided information on a number of contextual influences on their quality of life in early old age, notably social support and participation, the quality and quantity of social contact, feelings of trust and reciprocity about the local neighbourhood, health and financial security. In the analyses reported here, a series of conceptual and operational influences on quality of life in early old age is identified using block regression models. Finally, the relative impact of each predictor on CASP-19 is examined. The findings suggest that the legacy of the past tends to be best captured by people's feelings about the adequacy of their pensions and their status as owner-occupiers as well as a feeling that the area in which they live is deprived. The quality of the social contact people describe and how close they feel to those around them will ameliorate the negative impacts of the past and the immediate environment. In addition, we must recognise that people remain vulnerable to the impact of loss: recent bereavement, and major illnesses can impact on a person's quality of life.