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Mesothelioma rates are declining toward background levels, although estimates of the background rate have varied. We expanded upon earlier analyses and provided a data-based estimate of the background rate. We analyzed US male and female patterns for five age groups using the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results registry data from 1973 to 2002. Age-specific and age-adjusted incidence rates per 1 000 000 persons per year, standardized to the 2000 US population, were calculated for total, pleural, and peritoneal mesothelioma. We also calculated rates for persons who attained working age after the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration asbestos exposure limits took effect. Mesothelioma rates observed among young males and females varied little over time. We observed a decline and convergence of recent male and female rates in older age groups, except those who are between the age of 60 and above, for whom the 2002 male rate was approximately five times greater than that of females. As expected, rates were higher in major shipyard areas on the West coast. Rates for persons with little or no opportunity for occupational asbestos exposure were 1.15 (95% confidence interval: 0.90–1.45) for men and 0.94 (95% confidence interval: 0.87–1.24) for women. Mesothelioma is rare in younger age groups, and rates have been relatively stable and similar for both sexes. Rates continue to decline in older age groups, but remain high for males at 60 years or older. Rates among females at older ages suggest an impact of occupational exposure. The background rate for persons below age 50 is approximately one per million, independent of sex. Future data are needed to estimate this rate for older age groups.