This paper is concerned with the relationship between household income and life‐style deprivation, and their combined impact on households' perceptions of economic strain. It takes as a point of departure findings from a number of European countries showing that the relationship between income and deprivation is weaker than widely assumed and that relative income poverty lines may perform poorly in terms of identifying the most deprived households. It proceeds to examine how far these conclusions about income and deprivation can be generalized to the countries included in the first wave of the European Community Household Panel. Results show that five distinct dimensions of deprivation emerge from an overall European analysis and that these are consistent across individual countries. While a good deal of similarity is observed in the income–deprivation relationship, countries differ in the strength of relationship between income and what is termed ‘current liferstyle deprivation’ with the relationship being generally weakest in the richer countries. The implications of these findings for the use of relative income poverty lines are developed. Extending this analysis to an assessment of how income and deprivation combine to influence perceptions of economic strain, we show that within‐nation reference group processes operating in a uniform manner across countries can account for the bulk of the variation in strain. Cross‐national differences can be accounted for by corresponding variation in income and deprivation levels.