This study investigated the possibility of improved survival in cerebral palsy (CP) over a 20-year period. Participants were 47 259 persons with CP receiving services from the State of California between 1983 and 2002. The person-year approach was used. This asks whether the probability of dying in a given calendar year changes over the study period after age and severity of disability are taken into account. An appreciable improvement over time was found in children with severe disabilities and in adults who required gastrostomy feeding. In these groups, mortality rates fell by 3.4% per year. Therefore, life expectancies reported in earlier studies should be increased by approximately 5 years if adjustments to 2002 mortality rates are made. For other persons with CP there was, at most, a small improvement over the 20-year period. The results suggest there have been improvements in the treatment and care of the most medically fragile children. Gastrostomy feeding has become much more widespread over the past two decades, and the improved survival of persons with gastrostomies may reflect better understanding of their requirements.