Increased red cell distribution width (RDW) is associated with poorer outcomes in various patient populations. We investigated the association between preoperative RDW and anaemia on 30-day postoperative mortality among elderly patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery. Medical records of 24,579 patients aged 65 and older who underwent surgery under anaesthesia between 1 January 2012 and 31 October 2016 were retrospectively analysed. Patients who died within 30 days had higher median RDW (15.0%) than those who were alive (13.4%). Based on multivariate logistic regression, in our cohort of elderly patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery, moderate/severe preoperative anaemia (aOR 1.61, p = 0.04) and high preoperative RDW levels in the 3rd quartile (>13.4% and ≤14.3%) and 4th quartile (>14.3%) were significantly associated with increased odds of 30-day mortality-(aOR 2.12, p = 0.02) and (aOR 2.85, p = 0.001) respectively, after adjusting for the effects of transfusion, surgical severity, priority of surgery, and comorbidities. Patients with high RDW, defined as >15.7% (90th centile), and preoperative anaemia have higher odds of 30-day mortality compared to patients with anaemia and normal RDW. Thus, preoperative RDW independently increases risk of 30-day postoperative mortality, and future risk stratification strategies should include RDW as a factor.