To compare two cohorts of middle-aged men from the general population born 30 years apart for incidence and predictors of heart failure (HF).Two population samples of men, born in 1913 (n=855) and in 1943 (n=797), were examined at 50 years of age and followed up for 21 years (1963-1994 and 1993-2014). Cox regression analysis was used to examine the impact of different factors on the risk of developing HF.Eighty men born in 1913 (9.4%) and 42 men born in 1943 (5.3%) developed HF during follow-up; adjusted HRs comparing the two cohorts (born 1943 vs 1913) were: 0.46 (95% CI 0.28 to 0.74, p=0.002). In both cohorts, higher body mass index, higher diastolic blood pressure, treatment for hypertension, onset of either atrial fibrillation (AF), ischaemic heart disease and diabetes mellitus were associated with higher risk of HF. Higher heart rate was associated with an increased risk only in men born in 1913, whereas higher systolic blood pressure (SBP), smoking, higher glucose, higher cholesterol and physical inactivity were associated with an increased risk in men born in 1943. AF contributed higher risk of incident HF, whereas SBP and physical inactivity contributed lower risk in men born in 1943 compared with men born in 1913.Men born in 1943 had half the risk of HF after their 50s than those born 30 years earlier. AF, obesity, ischaemic heart disease, diabetes and hypertension remain important precursors of HF.