Though Ireland continues to have a poor health profile compared with other European Union countries, previous research on social variations has been limited. For the first time in the Republic of Ireland, the influence on self-rated health of various socio-demographic indicators was assessed in a multi-variate logistic regression model, separately for men and women. Data were from the first National Survey of Lifestyles, Attitudes and Nutrition, SLAN, conducted by post in a multi-stage, cluster random sample across 26 counties. There were 6539 respondents (45.4% males). Mean self-rated health differed significantly according to age, marital status, tenure, educational status, social class, household size and eligibility for general medical services (GMS), but not according to gender or rurality. There were also differences if residing in a district with low level of affluence, or according to social cluster groupings. There were numerous significant correlations between the nine socio-demographic measures, but the most consistent pattern was between GMS eligibility and the various indicators, for both men and women. In the case of men, whether social class was included in the multi-variate model or not, education status remained predictive in the final model, (OR 2.36 CI 1.35-4.12) as did smoking status (OR 2.11 CI 1.47-3.02). Odds ratio for GMS eligibility was 3.33 (CI 2.61-4.26) attenuated to 1.70 (CI 1.12-2.56) in the final model. For women the pattern was somewhat different. Only GM S status (OR 2.64 CI 1.74-3.99) and level of education (2.25 CI 1.19-4.24) were predictive in the final model. A multi-level analysis showed that area level of affluence was not significantly predictive of self-rated health when individual level factors were taken into account. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.