Much remains to be understood about how low socioeconomic status (SES) increases cardiovascular disease and mortality risk. Data from the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study (1984-1993) were used to estimate the associations between acute myocardial infarction and income, all-cause mortality, and cardiovascular mortality in a population-based sample of 2,272 Finnish men, with adjustment for 23 biologic, behavioral, psychologic, and social risk factors. Compared with the highest income quintile, those in the bottom quintile had age-adjusted relative hazards of 3.14 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.77-5.56), 2.66 (95% CI 1.25-5.66), and 4.34 (95% CI 1.95-9.66) for all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and AMI, respectively. After adjustment for risk factors, the relative hazards for the same comparisons were 1.32 (95% CI 0.70-2.49), 0.70 (95% CI 0.29-1.69), and 2.83 (95% CI 1.14-7.00). In the lowest income quintile, adjustment for risk factors reduced the excess relative risk of all-cause mortality by 85%, that of cardiovascular mortality by 118%, and that of acute myocardial infarction by 45%. These data show how the association between SES and cardiovascular mortality and all-cause mortality is mediated by known risk factor pathways, but full "explanations" for these associations will need to encompass why these biologic, behavioral, psychologic, and social risk factors are differentially distributed by SES.