Using the methodology of an earlier study of socioeconomic mortality gradients, we partitioned Brisbane City into five strata of equal size on the basis of suburb scores derived from aggregate socioeconomic census data. Numbers of deaths by stratum, age, sex and cause were obtained from mortality files. For almost all causes, mortality gradients had not changed between 1976-1979 and 1980-1987. A new category, medically-preventable death under age 65, had lower rates in higher-ranking suburbs. Potential years of life lost (PYLL) per unit of population, age-standardised, were also computed by stratum and cause. External causes of death were the main contributors to PYLL among men, with a strong socioeconomic gradient, while neoplasms were most important among women, with little evidence of a social class effect. It is estimated that, in urban Australia, the annual number of additional deaths under age 65 due to socioeconomic circumstances is over 2000 for males and over 1000 for females. This study provides a baseline against which the programs of health advancement initiated in the mid-1980s may be evaluated, or conversely, the effects of societal changes assessed.