Telomere length (TL) has been associated with aging and mortality, but individual differences are also influenced by genetic factors, with previous studies reporting heritability estimates ranging from 34 to 82%. Here we investigate the heritability, mode of inheritance and the influence of parental age at birth on TL in six large, independent cohort studies with a total of 19 713 participants. The meta-analysis estimate of TL heritability was 0.70 (95% CI 0.64-0.76) and is based on a pattern of results that is highly similar for twins and other family members. We observed a stronger mother-offspring (r=0.42; P-value=3.60 × 10 -61) than father-offspring correlation (r=0.33; P-value=7.01 × 10 -5), and a significant positive association with paternal age at offspring birth (β=0.005; P-value=7.01 × 10 -5). Interestingly, a significant and quite substantial correlation in TL between spouses (r=0.25; P-value=2.82 × 10 -30) was seen, which appeared stronger in older spouse pairs (mean age ≥55 years; r=0.31; P-value=4.27 × 10 -23) than in younger pairs (mean age<55 years; r=0.20; P-value=3.24 × 10 -10). In summary, we find a high and very consistent heritability estimate for TL, evidence for a maternal inheritance component and a positive association with paternal age. © 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited.