Profiles of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) seroprevalence have shown large variability in European countries in which vaccination has not been implemented. Differences in micro and macro population structures (e.g. household and municipality, respectively) may explain such variability, which is the focus of a population-based study of varicella in 12 000 children from 7800 French households in Corsica. The cumulative incidence was 89% at age 11 years, as the median age at infection was 5 years in first-born children, but decreased to 3·9 years in younger siblings. Hazard of infection in households increased as the first-born child initially enrolled in primary school. Age at infection was higher in less populated areas. Household attack rates increased with age (55% in <6 months, >90% in >3 years) and household secondary attack rate was ∼70%. Several levels of population structure independently affect age at varicella infection.