OBJECTIVE: To review the cross-cultural evidence on menopausal symptoms to assess the extent of variability in symptomatology and the relative weight of hormonal and social factors. DESIGN: Literature review and critical summaries of available studies. RESULTS: Symptoms related to menopause are found in all regions of the world, although everywhere large proportions of women go through menopause uneventfully. The evidence does not support that women in developing countries report fewer symptoms than in industrialized countries. There is a great diversity in symptom frequencies across countries, and the association of symptoms with menopausal status is weak. A number of symptoms thought to be part of menopause are in fact not specific to it, although the evidence does support the narrow estrogen hypothesis of a core of symptoms associated with estrogen decline, namely vasomotor and vaginal symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: The association between hormonal changes and menopause symptomatology is complex and mediated by sociocultural factors.