Early childhood respiratory infections, including pneumonia, are an important global public health issue, with more than 40 million annual cases resulting in approximately 650 000 deaths. A growing number of published studies have examined the effects of early childhood lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) or pneumonia on lung function, particularly as part of large early-life exposure studies. To our knowledge, there is no published systematic review of these data. We searched PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science for studies published between database inception and May 12, 2022. Case-control, cohort, and cross-sectional studies were included if they reported forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV 1) or forced vital capacity (FVC) values of participants older than 5 years. Article titles and abstracts were screened in Rayyan before retrieval, assessment, and data extraction of the full text. Primary outcome measures were differences in mean FEV 1 or FVC values between exposed groups (ie, children aged ≤5 years with LRTIs) and non-exposed groups. This study is registered with PROSPERO, CRD42021265295. Database searches yielded 3070 articles, and 14 studies were included in this systematic review, providing a total of 23 276 participants, including 9969 children and 13 307 adults. Eight of 14 articles reported significant reductions in FEV 1 values, and six of 12 studies reported reductions in FVC values in children and adults with a history of early childhood LRTIs or pneumonia, compared with unexposed controls (p<0·05). Most studies reporting reductions in lung function described deficits consistent with a restrictive spirometry pattern. Only two of 14 studies reported data from low-income and middle-income countries or disadvantaged populations in middle-income and high-income countries, and there were scarce data available on the effect of LRTI severity and recurrence on lung function. LRTIs in early childhood could be associated with a restrictive spirometry pattern in later childhood and adulthood. Data are needed from low-income and middle-income nations, and from disadvantaged populations in middle-income and high-income countries in which early childhood respiratory infection burden is disproportionately high. Data are also needed on the effect of LRTI severity and recurrence on future lung function.