We studied the age dependence of the relative contributions of the aberrations of the cornea and the internal ocular surfaces to the total aberrations of the eye. We measured the wave-front aberration of the eye with a Hartmann–Shack sensor and the aberrations of the anterior corneal surface from the elevation data provided by a corneal topography system. The aberrations of the internal surfaces were obtained by direct subtraction of the ocular and corneal wave-front data. Measurements were obtained for normal healthy subjects with ages ranging from 20 to 70 years. The magnitude of the RMS wave-front aberration (excluding defocus and astigmatism) of the eye increases more than threefold within the age range considered. However, the aberrations of the anterior corneal surface increase only slightly with age. In most of the younger subjects, total ocular aberrations are lower than corneal aberrations, while in the older subjects the reverse condition occurs. Astigmatism, coma, and spherical aberration of the cornea are larger than in the complete eye in younger subjects, whereas the contrary is true for the older subjects. The internal ocular surfaces compensate, at least in part, for the aberrations associated with the cornea in most younger subjects, but this compensation is not present in the older subjects. These results suggest that the degradation of the ocular optics with age can be explained largely by the loss of the balance between the aberrations of the corneal and the internal surfaces. © 2002 Optical Society of America OCIS codes: 330.5370, 330.7310.