OBJECTIVE: To evaluate a deprivation index, calculated from small area statistics for postcode sectors, as a measure of individual social status in an epidemiological study of coronary heart disease (CHD). DESIGN: A baseline, cross sectional survey. SETTING: Twenty two local authority districts of Scotland surveyed between 1984 and 1986. SUBJECTS: A total of 10359 men and women aged 40-59 years randomly selected to the Scottish heart health study. MAIN RESULTS: The Scottish deprivation categorisation, derived from small area statistics, exhibits a strong linear trend (p = 0.001 or below) for individual prevalent CHD for men and women, unadjusted, and adjusted for major cardiovascular risk factors. The degree of association with CHD is similar to that for measures of social class based upon occupation. CONCLUSIONS: The Scottish deprivation categorisation is an effective measure of individual social status in the current study, broadly comparable in its effect with the more traditional classification derived from occupations. The latter has important problems in definition, especially for women. Small area statistics may provide a useful marker of individual social status in a more general epidemiological setting.