Because the determinants of anxiety and depression in late adolescence and early adulthood may differ from those in later life, we investigated the temporal stability and magnitude of genetic and environmental correlates of symptoms of anxiety and depression across the life span. Data were collected from a population-based Australian sample of 4364 complete twin pairs and 777 singletons aged 20 to 96 years who were followed-up over three studies between 1980 and 1996. Each study contained the 14-item self-report DSSI/sAD scale which was used to measure recently experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression. Symptom scores were then divided and assigned to age intervals according to each subject's age at time of participation. We fitted genetic simplex models to take into account the longitudinal nature of the data. For male anxiety and depression, the best fitting simplex models comprised a single genetic innovation at age 20 which was transmitted, and explained genetic variation in anxiety and depression at ages 30, 40, 50 and 60. Most of the lifetime genetic variation in female anxiety and depression could also be explained by innovations at age 20 which were transmitted to all other ages; however, there were also smaller age-dependent genetic innovations at 30 for anxiety and at 40 and 70 for depression. Although the genetic determinants of anxiety and depression appear relatively stable across the life-span for males and females, there is some evidence to support additional mid-life and late age gene action in females for depression. The fact that mid-life onset for anxiety occurs one decade before depression is also consistent with the causal relationship (anxiety leading to depression) between these conditions. These findings have significance for large scale depression prevention projects.