The objectives of the present study were (1) to clarify and quantify the relationship between age and disease duration with the rate of change in disease activity over time in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and (2) to explore other possible factors associated with this rate of change. To this end, SLE patients from LUMINA were studied if they had at least three visits in which disease activity (Systemic Lupus Activity Measure-Revised [SLAM-R]) had been ascertained. Variables associated with the rate (slope) of change in disease activity (obtained by regressing the SLAM-R score against the length of time from diagnosis to visit date) were examined by univariable and multivariable analyses. Five hundred and forty two of the 632 patients had at least three SLAM-R score. In multivariable analyses, Whites exhibited the fastest decline in disease activity, Texan Hispanics exhibited the slowest, trailed by the African Americans. Longer disease duration and HLA-DRB1*1503 positivity were associated with a slower decline whereas a greater number of American College of Rheumatology criteria and abnormal laboratory parameters (white blood cell counts, hematocrit and serum creatinine) were associated with a faster decline. These findings complement existing knowledge on SLE disease activity and are potentially useful to clinicians managing these patients. © The Author(s), 2010.