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OBJECTIVE--To determine whether the increased prevalence of childhood eczema in advantaged socioeconomic groups is due to increased parental reporting. DESIGN--Comparison of parental reports of eczema with visible eczema recorded by medical officers during a detailed physical examination. SETTING--National birth cohort study. SUBJECTS--8279 children from England, Wales, and Scotland born during 3-9 March 1958 and followed up at the ages of 7, 11, and 16. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Prevalence of eczema according to parental report compared with medical officer's examination at the ages of 7, 11, and 16. RESULTS--Prevalence of both reported and examined eczema increased with rising social class at the ages of 7, 11, and 16 years. The point prevalence of examined eczema at age 7 was 4.8%, 3.6%, 3.6%, 2.4%, 2.2%, and 2.4% in social classes I, II, III non-manual, III manual, IV, and V respectively (chi 2 value for linear trend 12.6, P < 0.001). This trend persisted after adjustment for potential confounders such as region and family size and was not present for examined psoriasis or acne. CONCLUSIONS--Eczema is more prevalent among British schoolchildren in social classes I and II than those in lower classes. Exposures associated with social class are probably at least as important as genetic factors in the expression of childhood eczema.