BACKGROUND: Smoking is a major risk factor for lung diseases and lower respiratory symptoms, but since not all smokers develop chronic bronchitis and since chronic bronchitis is also diagnosed in never-smokers, it has been suggested that some individuals are more susceptible to develop chronic bronchitis due to genetics. OBJECTIVE: To study the relative influence of genetic and environmental factors on the variation in the susceptibility to chronic bronchitis. METHODS: In a population-based questionnaire study of 13,649 twins, 50-71 years of age, from the Danish Twin Registry, we calculated sex-specific concordance rates and heritability of chronic bronchitis. The response rate was 75%. RESULTS: The prevalence of chronic bronchitis was 9.3% among men and 8.5% among women. The concordance rate for chronic bronchitis was higher in monozygotic twins than in dizygotic twins among women; 0.30 vs. 0.17, but not among men; 0.15 vs. 0.18. The heritability of chronic bronchitis adjusted for smoking and age was 55% (36-71%) in women, whereas the susceptibility to chronic bronchitis in men for 25% (8-41%) was ascribable to familial environment but not to genetic factors. CONCLUSIONS: Chronic bronchitis shows a moderate familial aggregation, particularly in women. Increased susceptibility to respiratory disease among female smokers relative to male smokers may have a genetic origin.