The original object of birth registration, which was performed by the clergy in England as early as 1538, was to prevent disputes regarding inheritance. It was not until 1837 that systematic records were kept in England by the registrar general's office; birth registration became compulsory there in 1874. On the Continent birth registration also became compulsory in most countries during the 19th century.
In the United States birth registration is a responsibility of the individual states, although the definitive statistics on the subject are compiled by the federal government from records submitted by the states under a cooperative arrangement. Although birth registration is administered by state health departments, local registrars usually are officials of county or municipal governments. State laws are not uniform in detail, but they are based on common objectives. The increasing value of the birth record, both as an administrative tool in public health activity and as a convenient record for the individual citizen in the form of a birth certificate, has overcome earlier resistance to birth registration on the part of some segments of the public. Birth certificates provide legal evidence of a person's age and place of birth.
In Canada, birth registration is compulsory, and the federal government compiles statistics from provincial sources.