In Britain and other developed countries older people comprise a large majority of all those reporting long term illness or disability. However, most studies of socio-demographic variations in health have focussed on those in younger age groups. Moreover approaches to the study of health variations are often fragmented. In this study we have adopted a life course approach to analyse differentials in health in early old age. The data comes from the Retirement and Retirement Plans Survey and follow-up, a two-wave study of persons aged 55-69 in 1988/9. As well as information on current circumstances, the data set includes occupational, marital, and fertility history information. At baseline a nationally representative sample of the population of Great Britain were interviewed at home by trained interviewers (n = 3543). The sample was followed up and in 1994, 2247 survivors were re-interviewed, a response rate of 70% (of survivors). The data were weighted to adjust for non-response bias. Two outcome measures were used: self rated health and presence or absence of disability assessed from a scale derived from detailed questions on thirteen domains of disability. The severity score used was that developed for the 1985/6 ONS Surveys of Disability. The findings indicate that health and disability status at baseline and at follow up were associated with socioeconomic and geographic variables, such as proportion of adult life spent unemployed and residence outside the Southeast of England; demographic factors, such as early age at marriage and high parity; and experience of adverse events, such as the death of a child and being dismissed from work. The results show that socio-economic, demographic, and geographical and life events' factors are all associated with health status in early old age and that integrated, rather than bifurcated, approaches to the study of health differentials are needed.