The aim of the study was to determine whether consanguineous marriages result in reproductive wastage and an increased incidence of illness in the offspring in a community with a long history of inbreeding and an expected high rate of consanguineous marriage. A representative sample of 2200 women aged greater than or equal to 15 years from Dubai and Al Ain, two cities in the United Arab Emirates, representing on the one hand a modern metropolis and on the other a traditional society, were studied. A questionnaire, which included questions on age, parity, gravidity, number of stillbirths, number of abortions, number of children alive, neonatal deaths and specific illnesses in children, was administered by nurses in antenatal and gynaecological clinics in the two cities. The rate of consanguineous marriage was 50.5% and parity, gravidity, ages and number of children were similar in consanguineous and non-consanguineous groups. There was no significant difference in rates of abortion, stillbirth and neonatal death between the two groups. Overall, there was statistically significant higher reproductive wastage in consanguineous couples, but when the category of less than second cousins was excluded from the consanguineous group no difference was found in reproductive wastage between consanguineous and non-consanguineous marriages. Children born to consanguineous unions also had significantly higher incidences of illnesses (37.1%) than those of non-consanguineous unions (29%). The occurrence of malignancies, congenital abnormalities, mental retardation and physical handicap was significantly higher in offspring of consanguineous than non-consanguineous marriages. In conclusion, consanguinity did not result in reproductive wastage, but was found to be an important factor in the causation of specific illnesses in offspring.