Pain is a strong predictor of reduced work ability and well-being, but there is little information on the prevalence of and socio-economic differences in acute, chronic and disabling chronic pain among employees. A questionnaire survey conducted in 2000-2002 among employees aged 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 of the City of Helsinki (N=8970, response rate 67%) included socio-demographic and socio-economic factors and measures of current pain, pain duration and pain-related disability. Pain was acute when lasting a maximum of 3 months and chronic when persisting for more than 3 months. Disabling chronic pain was determined using the disability subscale of Von Korff's Chronic Pain Grade questionnaire. Acute pain was reported by 15% of women, chronic pain by 29% and disabling chronic pain by 7%. The corresponding figures for men were 12, 24 and 5%. Chronic and disabling chronic pain were more common in older age groups among both genders. Among women, those with secondary or basic education were more likely to report chronic or disabling chronic pain than those with higher education, and semi-professionals, routine non-manual employees and manual workers were more likely to report disabling chronic pain than managers. Among men, separated/divorced or widowed men were more likely to report acute pain than married men, and manual workers were more likely to report chronic pain than managers. Chronic pain was relatively common in this population, and those with older age, lower education and occupational class appear to be at excess risk for chronic pain, especially for disabling chronic pain.