Premature mortality is a major public health concern but there has been little consensus among researchers on how it should be defined and reported. In this article four means of measuring early deaths are considered using four different age thresholds to define prematurity. Using these four indicators, trends in premature mortality are reported for England and Wales from 1950 to 2004. All measures show that, however 'premature' is defined, levels of premature mortality have decreased markedly over time. This article discusses which mortality indicator and age threshold would be most appropriate for a measure of premature mortality for use in national mortality statistics for England and Wales.