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The Administrative Data Research Network is an ESRC-funded project that ran from October 2013 - July 2018. It is currently at the end of its funding cycle and is no longer taking applications. Administrative data research will be taken forward in a new project, to be launched later in 2018.

Mortality records (England and Wales), 1959-

Title Details

Mortality records (England and Wales), 1959-
Principal investigator(s):
Office for National Statistics
Data collector(s):
General Register Office

Subject Categories

  • Population, vital statistics and censuses


  • Abstract copyright ADRN.

    The Mortality Records dataset of England and Wales contains administrative records about mortality events occurred in England and Wales since 1959. The data record a variety of information about the deceased including residence, age, sex, marital status, occupation, occurrence and underlying cause of death. The classification of cause of death is in accordance with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases (tenth edition). This edition was implemented in January 2001.

    In most cases a death must be registered within five days of the death occurring. Most deaths (around 75%) are certified by a medical practitioner using a Medical Cause of Death Certificate.  Coroners certify the remaining deaths.

    Registrars collect the information on births and deaths and pass it to General Register Office (GRO), part of the Identify and Passport Service. Under the Statistics and Registration Service Act, this information is passed to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and when that information is personal registration information then the National Statistician becomes the Data Controller and is responsible for the onward disclosure of those data. Information on mortality statistics and the availability of mortality records is provided on the ONS website.

    The ONS compiles mortality statistics from information recorded at death registration. They are also responsible for the governance and release of individual level data.  Mortality data has been collected since 1837, but note that individual death records are held on ONS computer files from 1959 to the present. The Mortality Records dataset held by ONS covers deaths registered in England and Wales only. Information on deaths in Scotland is recorded by National Records of Scotland. In Northern Ireland it is recorded by the Department for Finance and Personnel.

    The Office for National Statistics uses the World Health Organisation (WHO) International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD) to record causes of death. The tenth revision of the ICD has been used from the 1st January 2001.  Between 1979 and 2000, the ninth revision was used.

    If you are planning to research mortality records over these time periods then there are some important revisions to ICD revision 10 that you should be aware of:

    • There was a change in the format of the code and expansion in the number of codes used.
    • There was a movement of some diseases and conditions between broadgroups called ICD Chapters.
    • Changes to the rules governing the selection of the underlying cause of death.

    Mortality statistics are governed by the UK Statistics Authority and so are of a high standard.  Once on the ONS database, the data are passed through a series of validation processes and any inconsistencies are highlighted and dealt with appropriately.

    As with any large dataset over a large time period there are some issues to consider. In 1981–82, industrial action taken by registration officers affected the quality of information about deaths from injury and poisoning. This action meant that details normally supplied by coroners were not available and the statistics were significantly affected. Figures on injury and poisoning for 1981, with the exception of suicides, must therefore be treated with caution. Categories such as ‘transport accidents’ and ‘homicide’ were significantly understated whereas ‘non-specific accidents’ and ‘undetermined injuries’ were overstated.

    Statistics relating to nature of injury were less affected by the absence of the coroners’ information. Although industrial action extended into 1982, the coroners’ information was collected retrospectively for that year, so enabling more accurate figures to be produced. However, complete details to help code the cause of death were still unavailable in 1982. This resulted in more deaths than usual being assigned to ‘unspecified’ categories.

    There is evidence of increasing delays in registering deaths. As a consequence, there has been an increase in the number (and proportion) of deaths not registered when the annual extract of death occurrences is taken in the autumn of the following year.

    New stillbirth and neonatal death certificates were introduced in January 1986. The new neonatal certificate included both maternal and fetal conditions. This means that it is not possible to assign an underlying cause for deaths under 28 days.

    For around three-quarters of deaths, one of the doctors involved in the patient’s care for the illness from which they died completes a medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD). Many thousands of general practitioners (GPs), hospital consultants, junior doctors in training and doctors in other clinical posts all complete MCCDs. The nature and amount of training they have had in death certification vary greatly.

    Research Usage and Linkage

    The mortality records have been used for a wide range of research purposes including examining the cause of death by geographical region and highlighting particular causes of death, such as alcohol or drug related and predicting life expectancy. The dataset is even more powerful when it is linked to other health related datasets to provide more in depth reasons for the causes and patterns of mortality.

    The mortality records data have been linked to a number of different datasets including the Hospital Episode Statistics Inpatient (including maternity dataset) to analyse patterns in hospital admissions with causes of mortality, such as liver disease and cancer.  It is also used in a number of studies including the ONS Longitudinal Study the Health Survey for England and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.  This study is a 1% sample of census records and vital events data used to examine important social health and demographic issues.

    The Health Protection Agency links their serious infections data to ONS mortality data to improve knowledge about deaths following serious infection. Mortality data are also included in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

Coverage, universe, methodology

Time period:
1959 -
England and Wales
Observation units:
Kind of data:
Individual (micro) level
All registered deaths occurred in England and Wales since 1959.

Time dimensions:
Repeated cross-sectional study
Sampling procedures:
No sampling (total universe)
Number of units:
Approximately 550,000 records per year
Method of data collection:

Compilation or synthesis of existing material

A death should be registered within five days of the death occurring. Local registrars collect the information on births and deaths and pass it to General Register Office (GRO).

Frequency of release:
Data Updated:

Administrative and access information

Crown copyright
Access conditions:
Contact the Network


Title File Name Size (KB)
Vital Statistics Legislation (England and Wales) 888002_legislation.pdf 151
Study Information 888002_mortality_statistics_information.pdf 36609
Mortality Statistics: User Guide (ONS, 2009) 888002_mortality_statistics_journal.pdf 10151
READ File read888002.txt 3


By principal investigator(s):

  • Dattani, N., Cooper, N. (2000) 'Trends in cot deaths', Health Statistics Quarterly, 5, pp. 10-16.
  • Reid, A. (2000) 'Trends in regional deprivation and mortality using the Longitudinal Study', Health Statistics Quarterly, 5, pp. 17-24.
  • Reid, A., Harding, S. (2000) 'An examination of persisting disadvantage and mortality in the regions using the Longitudinal Study', Health Statistics Quarterly, 6, pp. 7-13.
  • Donkin, A. (2001) 'Does living alone damage men's health?', Health Statistics Quarterly, 11, pp. 11-16.
  • White, C., van Galen, F., Huang Chow, Y. (2003) 'Trends in social class differences in mortality by cause, 1986 to 2000', Health Statistics Quarterly, 20, pp. 25-37.
  • Griffiths, C., Rooney, C., Brock, A. (2005) 'Leading causes of death in England and Wales - how should we group causes?', Health Statistics Quarterly, 28, pp. 6-17.
  • White, C., Glickman, M., Johnson, B., Corbin, T. (2007) 'Social inequalities in adult male mortality by the National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification, England and Wales, 2001-03', Health Statistics Quarterly, 36, pp. 6-23.
  • White, C., Edgare, G., Siegler, V. (2008) 'Social inequalities in male mortality for selected causes of death by the National Statistics Socioeconomic Classification, England and Wales, 2001-03', Health Statistics Quarterly, 38, pp. 19-32.
  • Langford, A., Johnson, B. (2009) 'Social inequalities in female mortality by region and by selected causes of death, England and Wales, 2001-03', Health Statistics Quarterly, 42, pp. 6-21.
  • Clemens, T., Boyle, P., Popham, F. (2009) 'Unemployment, mortality and the problem of health related selection: Evidence from the Scottish Longitudinal Study', Health Statistics Quarterly, 43, pp. 7-13.
  • Langford, A., Johnson, B. (2010) 'Trends in social inequalities in male mortality, 2001-08. Intercensal estimates for England and Wales', Health Statistics Quarterly, 47, pp. 5-32. 10.1057/hsq.2010.14.
  • White, C., Edgare, G. (2010) 'Inequalities in disability-free life expectancy by social class and area type: England, 2001-03', Health Statistics Quarterly, 45, pp. 57-80. 10.1057/hsq.2010.4.
  • White, C., Edgare, G. (2010) 'Inequalities in healthy life expectancy by social class and area type: England, 2001-03', Health Statistics Quarterly, 45, pp. 28-56. 10.1057/hsq.2010.3.
  • Johnson, B., Al-Hamad, A. (2011) 'Trends in socio-economic inequalities in female mortality 2001 - 08. Intercensal estimates for England and Wales', Health Statistics Quarterly, 52, pp. 3-32. 10.1057/hsq.2011.16.

Resulting from secondary analysis:

  • Wilkinson, P., Landon, M., Armstrong, B., Stevenson, S., Pattenden, S., McKee, M., Fletcher, T. (2001) Cold comfort: The social and environmental determinants of excess winter deaths in England, 1986-96, The Policy Press.
  • Grundy, E., Tomassini, C., Faroow, S. (2006) 'Partnership history and health and mortality in later life: an analysis of record linkage data from England & Wales'.
  • Noble, M., McLennan, D., Wilkinson, K., Whitworth, A., Barnes, H., Dibben, C. (2008) The English Indices of Deprivation 2007.
  • Ward, H., Christie, N., Lyons R., Broughton, J., Clarke, D., Ward, P. (2008) Trends in Fatal Car-occupant Accidents, Department for Transport.
  • Sullivan, R., Edwards, P., Sloggett, A., Marshall, C.E. (2009) 'Families bereaved by road traffic crashes: linkage of mortality records with 1971-2001 censuses', Inj Prev, 15(6), pp. 364-368. 10.1136/ip.2009.022368.
  • Grundy, E. (2009) 'Women's Fertility and Mortality in Late Mid Life: A Comparison of Three Contemporary Populations', American Journal of Human Biology, 21(4), pp. 541-547. 10.1186/1471-2458-10-554
  • Grundy, E., Tomassini, C. (2010) 'Marital history, health and mortality among older men and women in England and Wales', BMC Public Health, 10(554). 10.1186/1471-2458-10-554
  • Akinwale, B., Lynch, K., Wiggins, Rm., Harding, S., Bartley, M., Blane D. (2011) 'Work, permanent sickness and mortality risk: a prospective cohort study of England and Wales, 1971-2006', J Epidemiol Community Health, 65(9), pp. 786-792. 10.1136/jech.2009.099325.
  • Communities and Local Government (2011) The English Indices of Deprivation 2010.
  • Grundy, E. (2011) 'Household transitions and subsequent mortality among older people in England and Wales: trends over three decades', J Epidemiol Community Health, 65(4), pp. 353-359. 10.1136/jech.2009.089383.
  • Webb, R.T., Marshall, C.E., Abel, K.M. (2011) 'Teenage motherhood and risk of premature death: long-term follow-up in the ONS Longitudinal Study', Psychological Medicine, 41(9), pp. 1986-1877. 10.1017/S0033291711000055.
  • Blomgren, J., Matikainen, P., Grundy, E., Koskinen, S. (2012) 'Marital history 1971-91 and mortality 1991-2004 in England & Wales and Finland', J Epidemiol Community Health, 66(1), pp. 30-36. 10.1136/jech.2010.110635.
  • Smolina, K., Wright, F.L., Rayner, M., Goldacre, M.J. (2012) 'Determinants of the decline in mortality from acute myocardial infarction in England between 2002 and 2010: linked national database study', European Journal of Public Health, 22(6), pp. 848-853. 10.1093/eurpub
  • HSCIC (2013) A Guide to Linked Mortality Data from Hospital Episode Statistics and the Office for National Statistics, Health and Social Care Information Centre.
  • Smolina, K., Wright, F.L., Rayner, M., Goldacre, M.J. (2013) 'Determinants of the decline in mortality from acute myocardial infarction in England between 2002 and 2010: linked national database study', BMJ, 347.

Page last updated: 20/09/2017