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In countries with comparable levels of development and healthcare systems, preterm birth rates vary markedly – a range from 5 to 10% among live births in Europe. This review seeks to identify the most likely sources of heterogeneity in preterm birth rates, which could explain differences between European countries.Multiple risk factors impact on preterm birth. Recent studies reported on measurement issues, population characteristics, reproductive health policies as well as medical practices, including those related to subfertility treatments and indicated deliveries, which affect preterm birth rates and trends in high-income countries. We showed wide variation in population characteristics, including multiple pregnancies, maternal age, BMI, smoking, and percentage of migrants in European countries.Many potentially modifiable population factors (BMI, smoking, and environmental exposures) as well as health system factors (practices related to indicated preterm deliveries) play a role in determining preterm birth risk. More knowledge about how these factors contribute to low and stable preterm birth rates in some countries is needed for shaping future policy. It is also important to clarify the potential contribution of artifactual differences owing to measurement.