There is a growing literature which demonstrates that (a) conditions throughout the life-course are important for health outcomes in older people and (b) ‘contextual’ conditions in the place of residence, as well as individual characteristics influence health variations. This paper contributes to this debate by presenting results of an analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study (LS) for England and Wales. The analysis makes use of a new set of variables, which have been added to the LS, describing the social and economic conditions in the 1930s in residential areas where members of the LS sample were registered as living in 1939. The analysis focuses on people who were aged 0–16 in 1939. The health outcomes considered are death between 1981 and 1991, and for those still living, whether long-term illness was reported in the 1991 census. Regression analysis is used to examine the effects of residence in 1981, and data on the registered place of residence in 1939. The analysis shows that individual characteristics and type of area of residence in 1981 were associated with health outcomes. In addition, some variables describing socio-economic conditions in the 1930s contribute independently to the regression models (notably measures of economic deprivation and unemployment). The results suggest that conditions in residential area in early life may help to explain relatively poor health experience of populations in some parts of Britain today.