Perceived stress is associated with poor health outcomes including negative affect, increased susceptibility to the common cold and cardiovascular disease; the consequences of perceived stress for mortality, however, have received less attention. This study characterizes the relationship between perceived stress and 11-year mortality in a population of Taiwanese adults aged 53+ years. Using the Survey of Health and Living Status of the Near Elderly and Elderly of Taiwan, we calculated a composite measure of perceived stress based on six items pertaining to the health, financial situation, and occupation of the respondents and their families. Proportional hazard models were used to determine whether perceived stress predicted mortality. After adjusting for sociodemographic factors only, we found that a one standard deviation increase in perceived stress was associated with a 19% increase in all-cause mortality risk during the 11-year follow-up period (hazard ratio, HR = 1.19, 95% confidence interval, CI 1.13–1.26). The relationship was greatly attenuated when perceptions of stress regarding health were excluded, and was not significant after adjusting for medical conditions, mobility limitations and depressive symptoms. We conclude that the association between perceived stress and mortality is explained by an individual’s current health; however, our data do not allow us to distinguish between two possible interpretations of this conclusion: (a) the relationship between perceived stress and mortality is spurious, or (b) poor health acts as the mediator.