The effect of erbium-doping on the structural and optical properties of hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H) is investigated. Optical absorption and Raman spectra indicate that erbium doping introduces defect states, and that above a concentration of 0.27 at.%, induces strong structural disorder. The photoluminescence measurements show that erbium doping introduces non-radiative decay paths for carriers in a-Si:H, leading to decrease in both the Er3+ and intrinsic a-Si:H luminescence intensity when the Er concentration is increased to more than 0.04 at.%. The results are compared to that of Er-doped crystalline Si, and the possible excitation mechanisms of Er in a-Si:H are discussed. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.