BACKGROUND: To date, there is hardly any study focussing on the question how the concept of HRQL could deepen our understanding of health inequalities. The study aims at describing this potential by analysing data for adults from Germany. METHODS: The analyses are based on three national, representative surveys conducted from 2006 to 2008. HRQL was assessed by the EuroQol-5D (EQ-5D), the descriptive part (problems in five dimensions) and the valuation of health by visual analogue scale (VAS) rendering a value between '0' (worst) and '100' (best imaginable). The major independent variable is educational level (high vs. low). Four other variables were included (i.e. age, sex, per capita income and chronic disease). Multivariate analyses were performed by logistic and linear regression. RESULTS: Data were available for 5676 persons aged ≥20 years (response rate 73%). The prevalence of 'moderate or severe problems' is especially high in the dimension 'pain/discomfort' (low resp. high educational level: 46.3% resp. 25.0%). The mean VAS-value is 79.8 (low resp. high educational level: 75.3 resp. 83.6). Bivariate and multivariate analyses show that similar differences in VAS-values can be seen even after restricting the analyses to participants with a chronic disease. CONCLUSION: Empirical analyses concerning HRQL could further our understanding of health inequalities. They indicate that low status groups are faced with a double burden, first by increased levels of health impairments, and second by lower levels of HRQL once health is impaired. Thus, the extent of health inequalities could be underestimated if measures of HRQL are not taken into account.