We investigated the population structures of faecal Escherichia coli in 30 healthy young adults (13 males and 17 females) aged between 20 and 45 years and 29 elderly adults (14 females and 15 males) aged between 65 and 77 years. In all, 1566 strains were typed with the PhPlate system and grouped into biochemical phenotypes (BPTs). Strains with shared BPTs were further typed using randomly amplified polymorphic DNA analysis. Forty-four per cent of the strains were shared between two or more age and gender groups. Elders had a significantly higher (P<0.001) number of BPTs (mean +/- standard error 3.3 +/- 0.27) than younger groups (1.82 +/- 0.27). Phylogenetic affiliation and virulence-associated genes (VAGs) of the strains showed that more than 80 % of the strains belonging to dominant types belonged to phylogroups B2 and D. Amongst dominant BPTs, phylogenetic group A was significantly associated with females (P<0.0001), and elders were more likely to carry group D (P<0.0124). Elderly males had a higher prevalence of VAGs than young males (P<0.0001) and young females (P<0.0005). We conclude that there is a lower prevalence of E. coli with uropathogenic properties in healthy young adults than in elders.