In this article we examine regional variations in functional limitations of older Americans. We consider models for ‘life-long residents’ or those who currently live in their region of birth, and ‘secondary residents’ or those who live in a different region. Sizeable differences in limitations exist, with a higher rate in southern regions. Using a multinomial logit model, we further assess the geographical disparities in functional status while controlling for socioeconomic status (SES) and other characteristics. We conclude that the regional differentials are persistent. Those who have moved away from the south carry a burden of functional limitation with them wherever they go. Simulations based on estimated models suggest that improving individual SES can substantially increase the disability-free life span, but it cannot completely negate geographical influences. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.