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National Vital Statistics System-Mortality


Vital statistics mortality data are a fundamental source of demographic, geographic, and cause-of-death information. This is one of the few sources of comparable health-related data for small geographic areas over an extended time period. The data are used to present characteristics of those dying in the United States, to determine life expectancy, and to compare mortality trends with those in other countries.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics
Data Years Available: 
1910-present; not all states participated before 1933.
Mode of Collection: 
Death certificates are completed by physicians, coroners, medical examiners and funeral directors are filed with state vital statistics offices. Demographic information is provided by the funeral director and is based on information supplied by an informant. Medical certification of the cause of death is provided by the physician, medical examiner, or coroner.
Selected Content: 
Demographic information about the decedent and medical information on cause of death.
Population Covered: 
The U.S. population. Death data for the entire United States refer to events occurring within the United States; data for geographic areas are by place of residence.

The National Vital Statistics System Mortality component (NVSS-M) obtains information on deaths from the registration offices of each of the 50 states, New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands. By law, registration of deaths is the responsibility of the funeral director. The funeral director obtains demographic data from an informant. The physician in attendance at the death is required to certify the cause of death. When death is from other than natural causes, a coroner or medical examiner may be required to examine the body and certify cause. State death certificates are modeled on a U.S. Standard Certificate that is revised periodically. States provide the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) with death records in electronic format.

Response Rates and Sample Size: 

In 2007, over 2.4 million deaths were reported in the U.S.

Interpretation Issues: 

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) by which cause of death is coded and classified, is revised approximately every 10-15 years. Because revisions of the ICD may cause discontinuities in trend data by cause of death, comparison of death rates across ICD revision should be done with caution and with reference to the comparability ratios. Revisions to the Standard Certificate of Death may also create discontinuities in classification and/or availability of selected data items.


National Center for Health Statistics. Health United States 2009: With Special Feature on Medical Technology. Hyattsville, Maryland. 2010; pp 476-480.