The objective of this study was to investigate whether the improvement in survival seen in patients on kidney replacement therapy reflects the enhanced survival of the general population. Patient and general population statistics were obtained from the European Renal Association-European Dialysis and Transplant Association (ERA-EDTA) Registry and the World Health Organization databases, respectively. Relative survival models were composed to examine trends over time in all-cause and cause-specific excess mortality, stratified by age and modality of kidney replacement therapy, and adjusted for sex, primary kidney disease and country. In total, 280,075 adult patients started kidney replacement therapy between 2002 and 2015. The excess mortality risk in these patients decreased by 16% per five years (relative excess mortality risk (RER)) 0.84; 95% confidence interval 0.83-0.84). This reflected a 14% risk reduction in dialysis patients (RER 0.86; 0.85-0.86), and a 16% increase in kidney transplant recipients (RER 1.16; 1.07-1.26). Patients on dialysis showed a decrease in excess mortality risk of 28% per five years for atheromatous cardiovascular disease as the cause of death (RER 0.72; 0.70-0.74), 10% for non-atheromatous cardiovascular disease (RER 0.90; 0.88-0.92) and 10% for infections (RER 0.90; 0.87-0.92). Kidney transplant recipients showed stable excess mortality risks for most causes of death, although it did worsen in some subgroups. Thus, the increase in survival in patients on kidney replacement therapy is not only due to enhanced survival in the general population, but also due to improved survival in the patient population, primarily in dialysis patients.