Atrial fibrillation (AF) occurs frequently in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Epidemiologic studies have found inconsistent associations between lung function and AF, and none have studied pulmonary emphysema, which overlaps only partially with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the general population. The aim of this study was to assess the relation among lung function measured by spirometry, the percentage of emphysema-like lung on computed tomography, and incident AF. The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) is a multicenter cohort study following 6,814 subjects free of clinical cardiovascular disease, including AF, at baseline. Spirometry was performed in a subset of 3,965 participants. Percentage emphysema was defined on baseline computed tomographic scans as lung regions <950 Hounsfield units. Incident AF was identified from hospital discharge diagnosis and Medicare claims data. Cox proportional hazards models were used to assess independent associations of lung volumes and percentage emphysema with AF. A total of 3,811 participants with valid spirometric results were included in this study. The mean age was 64.5 ± 9.8 years, and 49.4% were men. AF developed in 149 subjects (3.8%) over a mean follow-up period of 4.1 years after spirometry. Lower levels of forced expiratory volume at 1 second and forced vital capacity were associated with a higher risk for AF (hazard ratios 1.21 and 1.19 per 500 ml, respectively, p <0.001) after adjustment for demographic and cardiovascular risk factors. Percentage emphysema was not significantly related to AF. In conclusion, in a multiethnic community-based sample of subjects free of cardiovascular disease at baseline, functional airflow limitation was related to a higher risk for AF.