At A Glance

Noteworthy Characteristics

  • Census sample, which allows analysis of racial/ethnic subgroups.
  • Provides measured weight at birth.
  • Almost complete coverage of the U.S. and its territories.



To collect data about births and deaths for individuals in the United States (U.S.) and its territories.

Target Population

Individuals in all 50 states, New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, America Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.


Began in 1900, with complete coverage of the U.S. beginning in 1933. Conducted on an ongoing basis. Most recent year conducted was 2016.


National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Special Note(s)

Birth and death data are collected and accessed separately. Combined, they constitute the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS).

Vital Statistics information is obtained from birth and death certificates.

New items included in the 2003 revision of the birth certificate include mother’s participation in the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and primary method of payment for delivery.


Sample Design

Census of births and deaths.

Sample Size

Data gathering does not involve sampling. In 2013, 3,932,181 births and 2,596,993 deaths occurred.

Key Variables


NameMethods of Assessment
Age at deathProxy report
Date of birthProxy report
Maternal age at birthSelf report
Race/ethnicity of deceased, newborn, mother and fatherProxy report (mother for newborn, funeral director for deceased)
Sex (descendent and/or child)Proxy report


NameMethods of Assessment
Birth weight Measured (medical record)
Mother’s pre-pregnancy weight and weight and height at birth of child (from 2009)Self report


NameMethods of Assessment
State and countyN/A


NameMethods of Assessment
Cause of deathMedical report (physician, medical examiner, or coroner)

Data Access and Cost

Data Availability

Annual public-use micro-data death files can be downloaded from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) website or obtained on CD. Learn more about obtaining data.


Free of charge.

Special Note(s)

It is possible to request custom files that include geographic (after 2005) or temporal information. These requests are considered by the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (representing the state vital statistics programs) and NCHS. Learn more about the procedures for requesting special files.


Geocode Variable(s)

State and county (through 2004).

Existing Linkages

Linked Birth/Infant Death File. Vital Statistics birth certificate information on age, race, and Hispanic origin of the parents, birth weight, period of gestation, prenatal care usage, maternal education, birth order, marital status, and maternal smoking have been linked to death certificate information on age at death and underlying and multiple cause of death for infants younger than 1 year of age.

Special Note(s)

Before 1989, state and county of residence and date of death were included in each record. Between 1989 and 2004, precise geographic information was included only for counties with a population of at least 100,000. As a result of stricter federal standards regarding confidentiality, beginning in 2005, no geographic information is provided.

Coding or diagnostic practices may differ by geography, limiting the comparability of data between geographic areas.

Selected Publications


The National Center for Health Statistics maintains a list of relevant publications.


Chapman DJ, Merewood A, Armah RA, Pérez-Escamilla R. Breastfeeding status on U.S. birth certificates: Where do we go from here? Pediatrics 2008;122(6):e1159-1163.


Lazariu-Bauer V, Stratton H, Pruzek R, Woelfel ML. A comparative analysis of effects of early versus late prenatal WIC participation on birth weight: NYS, 1995. Maternal and Child Health Journal 2004;8(2):77-86.


Data Query System

Cohort Fertility Tables

Mortality tables

Vital Statistics Data


Instruction manuals