Cohort studies of survival in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) often have been limited by methodologic problems. In studies of inception cohorts of patients followed since 1980, survival at 5 years has exceeded 90%. These estimates are generally higher than survival estimates from earlier studies, suggesting that short-term survival in SLE has improved. There is less evidence to support major improvements over time in survival after 10 years or more of SLE. Infections, atherosclerotic disease, and active systemic lupus erythematosus or organ damage caused by SLE are the main causes of death in patients with SLE, but the proportion of early deaths caused by active SLE has decreased over time.