AIMS: The Nordic countries have relatively equal employment participation between men and women, but some differences between countries exist in labour market participation. The aim was to examine the association between employment status and health among women and men in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, and analyse whether this association is modified by marital status and parental status. METHODS: The data come from nationally representative cross-sectional surveys carried out in Denmark (n = 2,209), Finland (n = 4,604), Norway (n = 1,844) and Sweden (n = 5,360) in 1994-95. Women and men aged 25-49 were included. Employment status was categorized into full-time employed, part-time employed, unemployed, and housewives among women and into employed and unemployed among men. Health was measured by perceived health and limiting longstanding illness. Logistic regression analysis was used, adjusting for age and education. Marital status and parental status were analysed as modifying factors. RESULTS: The non-employed were more likely to report perceived health as below good and limiting longstanding illness than the employed among both women and men. The association between employment status and perceived health remained unchanged when marital status and parental status were adjusted for among all men and Finnish women, but the association was slightly strengthened among Danish and Swedish women, with the housewives becoming more likely to report ill health than employed women. The association between employment status and limiting longstanding illness was slightly strengthened among women, and slightly weakened among Norwegian men when marital and parental status were adjusted for. CONCLUSIONS: Non-employment was associated with poorer health in all countries, although there are differences in the employment patterns between the countries. Among women marital status and parental status showed a modest or no influence on the association between employment status and health. Among men there was no such influence.