This paper seeks to establish the strength of association between contemporary tuberculosis (TB) in England and Wales and several potential aetiological factors. It presents an ecological analysis of standardised annual TB mortality rates for the 403 local authority districts between 1982 and 1992, disaggregated by age and sex. Social, demographic and ethnicity measures from the 1981 and 1991 censuses and standardised annual AIDS-related mortality rates for young men are used to calculate Poisson regression models. A strong association was found between all TB mortality groups and overcrowding at the household level. For women, no other measures improved the explanatory power of the models. In multiple regressions, both poverty and AIDS-related mortality explained additional variation in the model for younger men. The link between ethnicity and tuberculosis notifications was not reflected in this analysis of mortality. For all groups no evidence of a positive relationship with ethnicity was found, once overcrowding had been accounted for. The significance of household as opposed to district level crowding suggests that prolonged contact is required for disease transmission. Regression analysis indicates that it is the overcrowding and poverty among ethnic populations that is significant for their tuberculosis mortality. The fact that the relationship between AIDS and TB is confined to the group most typical of AIDS patients provides evidence that AIDS has little influence on the level of tuberculosis mortality in the wider population. Explanations for the observed relationship include preferential certification, migration for treatment and shortcomings in health care provision.