We performed a systematic review and critique of the literature on the frequency of undescended testis (UDT) among boys from birth to adolescence. Special attention was given to whether previous testicular position was taken into account to distinguish between congenital and acquired UDT. We searched Medline, Embase, Cinahl and the Cochrane Library. Any study reporting on the frequency of UDT was included. Study population age, number of boys studied, period of examination, primary examiner, area of study, study design, ethnicity, definitions used and previous testicular position were analysed. A total of 46 studies met the inclusion criteria. Twenty-three of the 46 (50%) studies involved newborns. Definitions were described in half of the studies; however, the definitions used were heterogeneous. Previous testis position was described in 11% (5/46) of the studies. At birth, in term and/or birth weight >2.5 kg infants, the UDT rate ranged from 1.0 to 4.6%, and in premature and/or birth weight <2.5 kg infants from 1.1 to 45.3%. At the age of 1 year UDT in term and/or birth weight >2.5 kg infants was seen in 1.0-1.5%, at 6 years in 0.0-2.6%, at 11 years in 0.0-6.6% and at 15 years in 1.6-2.2% of boys. The frequency of UDT shows variable figures in the literature. The actual frequency of acquired UDT essentially remains unclear because of the shortage of studies performed at an older age, and of studies reporting on previous testicular position.