BACKGROUND: More than 200,000 people in Norway have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but knowledge about their living conditions is insufficient. MATERIAL AND METHODS: The Living Conditions Survey of 2002 (Statistics Norway) included specific questions about COPD. We have compared living conditions of people with self-reported chronic bronchitis, pulmonary emphysema or COPD with that of other groups with or without chronic disease. RESULTS: People with chronic bronchitis, pulmonary emphysema or COPD have considerably worse living conditions than comparable groups. This is especially true in areas such as health, education, employment and income. Similar patterns are also seen in their social relationships. In a global index, where 1 indicates good living conditions and 0 bad living conditions, the COPD group scored 0.46, while people with other chronic diseases scored 0.60. Smokers with difficulty breathing have equally bad living conditions as those with self-reported COPD. The number of people stating they have COPD is considerably lower than shown in other recent studies of prevalence. INTERPRETATION: Patients with COPD have larger problems within several areas of life than other groups with chronic diseases. In addition, the results indicate that many people have this disease without knowing it.