Work characteristics, including skill discretion and decision authority, explain most of the socioeconomic status gradient in well-being and depression in middle-aged British civil servants from the Whitehall II Study, London. Social support explained about one-third of the gradient, life events and material difficulties less than one-third. Socioeconomic status was measured by employment grade. Work characteristics were based on the Karasek model, social support was measured by the Close Persons Questionnaire, depression by the General Health Questionnaire and well-being by the Affect Balance Scale. Despite a small contribution from social selective factors measured by upward mobility, the psychosocial work environment explained most of the cross-sectional socioeconomic status gradient in well-being and depression.