From a multiracial population of 1,035,384 births monitored by the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program (CBDMP) from 1983 to 1988, we ascertained 34 cases of esophageal atresia (EA), 204 cases of tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) with an EA (TEF/EA), and 54 cases of TEF without EA. The total prevalence rate was 2.82 per 10,000 live births and stillbirths and showed no secular trend nor marked seasonal variation. Rates of multiple birth were high for each defect (TEF 3.7%, TEF/EA 4.9%, EA 8.8%; population 1.1%). Non-Hispanic whites were overrepresented for TEF and TEF/EA, but not for EA. Excluding trisomies, mean maternal age was above the population mean (26.8 years) for TEF (27.9 years) and TEF/EA (28.0 years), but not for EA (26.2 years). The proportion of trisomies was significantly higher for EA (23.5%) than for TEF (9.3%; P < 0.02) or for TEF/EA (7.4%; P < 0.003). We subdivided each defect into five mutually exclusive types: isolated, multiple, syndromic, chromosomal, and trisomic. Male-to-female (M/F) ratios varied considerably between types, both within and between defects. The highest M/F ratios within each defect were for the multiple type (TEF 2.29, TEF/EA 1.44, EA 1.33; population 1.05), and the lowest for trisomies (TEF 0.25; TEF/EA 0.25, and EA 0.60). All types except trisomies were significantly associated with a single umbilical artery. We found an association of EA and TEF/EA with dextrocardia (3.1% of cases), and confirmed the association of primary hydrocephalus with TEF and TEF/EA (2.7% of cases). The proportion of cases with additional midline defects or VATER or VACTERL type anomalies was similar for all three defects, suggesting a common developmental pathogenesis. Epidemiologic differences between defects, and between types within defects, may reflect differences in timing of the pathological process or differences in susceptibilities (e.g., by sex or aneuploidy) and emphasize the need to evaluate each defect and its types separately in epidemiologic studies.