Autologous peripheral blood progenitor cell (PBPC) transplantation is now commonly used in children. The ontogenic differences in haematopoiesis published in recent years suggest differences in the categories of mobilized PBPCs between children and adults. We investigated the frequency and distribution of mature progenitor cells (colony-forming cells, CFCs) and primitive progenitor cells [CD34+ CD38− and CD34+ Thy-1+ cells, long-term culture-initiating cells (LTC-ICs)] in children and adults mobilized using granulocyte colony-stimulating factor alone. We found similar proportions of granulocyte colony-forming units (CFU-G) and/or macrophage CFUs (CFU-M), mixed lineage CFUs (CFU-Mix) and megakarocyte CFUs (CFU-Mk), CD34+ CD38− and CD34+ Thy-1+ cells, and LTC-ICs (16·5 ± 3·5 vs. 10·65 ± 5 per 104 CD34+ cells), which produced the same number of CFCs (5 ± 1 vs. 6 ± 1 CFCs/LTC-ICs) in PB CD34+ cells from children and adults. However, we noted a higher proportion of erythroid blast-forming units (BFU-E) in PB CD34+ cells from adults (× 1·5, P = 0·003). Using cord blood as a third ageing point, we observed an inverse age-related propensity for commitment to the monocyte/macrophage lineage that was still found after normalizing the data per body weight and processed blood mass. This ontogeny-related programming was detected from the LTC-IC level, which produced 1·7 times more CFU-M in children than in adults (P = 0·048). These subtle differences in commitment between children and adults, shown here for the first time, are of interest for the in vitro manipulation of PBPCs and, in particular, for application in adoptive immunotherapy in children.