Associations between ferritin and insulin sensitivity have been described in recent studies. The possible association showed conflicting results by sex and menopausal status. We aimed to investigate the cross-sectional association of ferritin levels with insulin resistance and β-cell function. A total of 2518 participants (1033 men, 235 pre-menopausal women and 1250 post-menopausal women) were enrolled from the Changfeng Study. A standard interview was conducted, as well as anthropometric measurements and laboratory analyses, for each participant. The serum ferritin level was measured using electrochemiluminescence immunoassay. Insulin resistance and β-cell function indices were derived from a homeostasis model assessment. The results showed that the serum ferritin levels were 250·4 (sd 165·2), 94·6 (sd 82·0) and 179·8 (sd 126·6) ng/ml in the men, pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women, respectively. In fully adjusted models (adjusting for age, current smoking, BMI, waist:hip ratio, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, TAG, HDL-cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, log urine albumin:creatinine ratio, leucocytes, alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase and γ-glutamyl transpeptidase), serum ferritin concentrations are significantly associated with insulin resistance in men and post-menopausal females, and the null association was observed in pre-menopausal females. Interestingly, an increased β-cell function associated with higher ferritin was observed in post-menopausal participants, but not in male participants. In conclusion, these results suggested that elevated serum ferritin levels were associated with surrogate measures of insulin resistance among the middle-aged and elderly male and post-menopausal women, but not in pre-menopausal women.