Asthma mortality in New Zealand from 1976 to 1985 was examined, covering the years of an epidemic of asthma deaths. Using Reinken et al's socioeconomic classification of neighbourhoods in New Zealand, asthma death rates were compared in areas of high, middle and low social need. There was a marked difference in mortality between the highest and the lowest areas. Overall 2.3 times as many persons died from asthma in low socioeconomic areas as from high socioeconomic areas. The increase in asthma deaths in New Zealand during the late 1970's appears to have only occurred in middle and low socioeconomic groups. The neighbourhood measures of need used in this study are clearly predictive of disease and may provide an alternative way of examining the health of communities to the more formal but narrowly based occupational socioeconomic scales.