Although II million people in the United States have chronic renal insufficiency, little is known about ethnic/racial disparities for early-onset renal impairment. This study sought to determine whether there is an independent association between race/ethnicity and early-onset renal impairment and to identify other risk factors that might account for observed disparities. All Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults subjects in which serum creatinine was measured at the year 15 examination were identified (n = 3554), excluding those who were pregnant at year 15. Potential risk factors at study entry (ages 18 to 30 yr, 1985 to 1986) included age, weight, gender, race/ethnicity, glucose, uric acid, and systolic BP. Renal impairment was defined as creatinine ≥ 1.5 mg/dl for men and ≥ 1.2 mg/dl for women at year 15 (ages 33 to 45 yr). Fifty-two (2.7%) women and 39 (2.4%) men had renal impairment at the year 15 examination. In bivariate analyses, the odds of renal impairment among black women was estimated to be 2.4-fold that of white women, and among black men, the odds of renal impairment were 9.0-fold that of white men. In multivariate analysis, the odds of an elevated creatinine among black women compared with white women reduced to a nonsignificant 1.5-fold, whereas among men, the odds of an elevated creatinine among blacks was 11.4-fold that of whites. Although adjustment for baseline glucose levels accounted for much of the association between ethnicity and elevated creatinine among women, adjustment for weight, systolic BP, uric acid, glucose, and socioeconomic status did not account for the association between ethnicity and renal impairment among men. The data suggest that there are ethnic differences in the development of early-onset renal dysfunction. Among women, these differences are modest and largely accounted for by differences in glucose levels early in adult life. Differences in race/ethnicity related risk of early-onset renal impairment are particularly large among men and are not accounted for by the metabolic or socioeconomic factors evaluated.