OBJECTIVES: Epidemiological research has confirmed the association between socioeconomic status (SES) and health, but only a few studies considered working conditions in this relationship. This study examined the contribution of physical and psychosocial working conditions in explaining the social gradient in self-rated health. METHODS: A representative sample of 10 101 employees, 5003 women and 5098 men, from the Swiss national health survey 2002 was used. SES was assessed according to the EGP-scheme. Working conditions included exposure to physical disturbances, physical strain, job insecurity, monotonous work and handling simultaneous tasks. For data analysis logistic regression analyses were performed. RESULTS: Data show a social gradient for self-rated health (SRH) as well as for physical and psychosocial working conditions. Logistic regression analysis controlling for age, gender and level of employment showed both physical and psychosocial working conditions to be significant predictors of SRH. Physical and psychosocial working conditions such as physical disturbances from work environment, physical strains in doing the job, monotony at work, job insecurity etc. could explain most of the social gradient of SRH in men and women. CONCLUSION: The study confirmed the relevance of modifiable physical and psychosocial working conditions for reducing social inequality in health. Gender differences need to be considered in epidemiological and intervention studies.