The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of parent-reported pain among children in the Nordic countries in 1996, and to describe the association between recurrent pain in children and parental socio-economic factors. We also wanted to estimate the association between parental pain and childhood pain and co-occurrence of different pain patterns in the same child. Data were obtained from a cross-sectional survey on children's health and well-being in the Nordic countries in 1996. About 10,000 children aged 2-17 years of age were selected from population registries. Mean response rate was 68%. We selected the cases > or = 7 years where the respondent was the child's biological mother or father, yielding a total of 6230 subjects. The adjusted analyses were performed using logistic regression in SPSS. The total prevalence of headache, abdominal pain and back pain among children 7-17 years of age was 14.9, 8.3 and 4.7%, respectively. The most common pain combination was headache and abdominal pain. Pain was most frequent among girls. The prevalence was slightly higher in low educated or low-income families compared to those of high status. Children living in low educated, low-income, worker families had approximately a 1.4-fold odds of having pain. There was a strong association between the different pain conditions, and between pain and other forms of distress in the same child. A site-specific association between parental and child pain was also shown, but we assume that this might have been mediated through subjective (information) bias.