Social competence in subjects at risk for schizophrenia and affective disorder and in normal-comparison subjects was examined in childhood and adolescence. Based on interviews with the parents of the subjects and with the children and adolescents themselves, subjects at risk for schizophrenia had poorer overall social competence than subjects at risk for affective disorder and comparison subjects in early adolescence and adolescence but not in childhood. In analyses of specific aspects of social competence, the adolescents at risk for schizophrenia had significantly poorer peer relationships and decreased hobbies/interests than the adolescents at risk for affective disorder and the normal-comparison adolescents. With respect to school adjustment, however, the two groups of adolescent offspring of parents with psychiatric disorders had significantly poorer adjustment than the comparison adolescents but did not differ from each other on this measure. These results suggest that various aspects of poor social competence may precede the onset of schizophrenia and play an important role in its development.