A measure of deprivation has been devised using data from the 1981 Census about area characteristics which may be considered to reflect material deprivation, and a score is calculated for each postcode sector in Scotland. The routine data sources provide information for a range of health measures which are shown to be strongly linked to levels of deprivation, with specific causes--respiratory conditions, cancer of the lung and cancer of the cervix--exhibiting very considerable differentials in respect of both mortality and cancer morbidity. Nevertheless not all causes exhibit this positive association. This area-based measure provides a valuable tool for the analysis of health data in relation to socio-economic circumstances which overcomes many of the limitations which arise in the use of the more traditional measure of social class. Like social class however it depends on data from the census which are available only at ten-yearly intervals. Other existing data sources are suggested which could possibly provide relevant information on area characteristics and populations for inter-censal years.