BACKGROUND Premature ovarian failure (POF) before 40 years of age from natural causes affects approximately 1% of adult women, with minor variations between ethnic groups. A recent case of ovarian transplantation between young monozygotic (MZ) twins in which one had undergone unexplained POF at 14 years has prompted a study of the prevalence of POF. METHODS Menopausal ages of 832 Australian and UK female twin-pairs were extracted from volunteer national twin registry databases containing medical, reproductive and lifestyle data surveyed by mail questionnaire. Surgical menopause was an exclusion criterion. RESULTS The prevalence of POF in both MZ and dizygotic (DZ) twins was similar in both registries and 3- to 5-fold greater than the general population at age thresholds 40 and 45 years. No specific factors were found to account for the higher risk of early menopause. Some twins of both zygosities were highly discordant for menopausal age (>or=10 years). Nevertheless, there was significant intra-twin dependence, especially for MZ twins, and the average age difference at last menses was greater in DZ twin-pairs. CONCLUSION Both MZ and DZ twins are at higher risk of POF. Despite some striking differences within MZ twin-pairs, menopausal ages were more concordant than for DZ twin-pairs, confirming that the timing of menopause has a heritable component.