A retrospective study of factors influencing survival in 1,103 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) was carried out at 9 university centers diverse in geographic, socioeconomic, and racial characteristics. The mortality and disease characteristics of the patients at study entry varied widely among centers. The survival rates from the time patients with a diagnosis of SLE were first evaluated at the participating center was 90% at 1 year, 77% at 5 years, and 71% at 10 years. Patients with a serum creatinine greater than 3 mg/dl at study entry had the lowest survival rates: 48%, 29%, and 12% at 1, 5, and 10 years, respectively. Survival rate also correlated independently with the entry hematocrit, degree of proteinuria, number of preliminary American Rheumatism Association criteria for SLE satisfied, and source of funding of medical care. When data were corrected for socioeconomic status, race/ethnic origin did not significantly influence survival. Survival rates varied widely at different participating institutions, generally due to differences in disease severity. Place of treatment was independently associated with survival only in the second year after study entry. Disease duration before study entry did not account for the differences in disease severity.