This study examined ethnic differences in blood pressure and pulse rate in young adults to see whether the differences, if they exist, can be explained by differences in body mass index, lifestyle, psychological, and socioeconomic characteristics. Data used were from the baseline examination of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in (Young) Adults Study (CARDIA). CARDIA is a longitudinal study of lifestyle and evolution of cardiovascular disease risk factors in 5,116 young adults, black and white, men and women, aged 18-30 years, of varying socioeconomic status. Young black adults had higher mean systolic blood pressure and slightly higher mean diastolic blood pressure than young white adults. For both men and women, the blood pressure differences between blacks nd whites tended to be greater for the age group 25-30 than for the age group 18-24 years. Among the variables studied, body mass index, duration of exercise on the treadmill, number of cigarettes smoked per day, and number of alcoholic drinks per week were consistently associated with blood pressure. The blood pressure differences were greatly reduced after adjusting for these variables. Black participants had lower mean pulse rate than white participants. The differences tended to be greater for the age group 18-24 than for the age group 25-30 years. Among the variables studied, only duration on treadmill and number of cigarettes smoked per day were consistently correlated with pulse rate. With adjustment for duration on treadmill, the differences in pulse rate increased. These results suggest that differences in ethnic pattern of blood pressures and pulse rate with age may be due in part to obesity, physical fitness, alcohol consumption, and cigarette smoking.