Differences between rural and urban residents in their utilization of three clinical preventive services--Papanicolaou screening tests (Pap smears) for women aged 18 to 65, mammograms for women aged 50 to 69 and flu shots for people aged 65 or older--were examined using a nationally representative sample from the 1994 U.S. National Health Interview Survey. Eighty-two percent of urban women and 79 percent of rural women (P = 0.11) had Pap smears. Sixty-eight percent of urban women and 61 percent of rural women (P = 0.01) had mammograms. Flu shots were received by 55 percent of urban and 58 percent of rural elderly residents (P = 0.11). Of women aged 50 to 69 who had a high school education or whose annual household income was between $15,000 and $34,999, significantly fewer rural than urban women had mammograms (P < 0.01). However, the proportion of rural women receiving mammograms was not significantly different from that of urban women after adjusting for their education, household income and health insurance status. Education level, house-hold income and health insurance coverage were positively associated with utilizing mammograms. These results suggest that differences in the utilization of preventive services between rural and urban women vary by services. Improving socioeconomic status and health insurance coverage of rural women may reduce the disparity in mammogram use between rural and urban women. Mechanisms of how a woman's socioeconomic status affects her utilization of mammograms needs further study.