The decreasing relative mortality among type I (insulin-dependent) diabetic patients during the last 50 years might be related to the incidence of clinical diabetic nephropathy. We therefore followed 2890 type I diabetic patients (1607 males and 1283 females) diagnosed between 1933 and 1972 and before the age of 31, from admission to death, emigration, or January 1, 1984. All patients had been admitted to the Steno Memorial Hospital. Information on development of proteinuria was obtained in 2658 patients (92%). Five hundred twenty-five patients developed nondiabetic proteinuria due to diabetes and 49 developed nondiabetic proteinuria. When comparing patients diagnosed between 1933 and 1942, with those diagnosed between 1953 and 1962, the incidence of proteinuria decreased by 30% (P <.03). This might explain the decrease of relative mortality in type I diabetic patients. The incidence decreased with increasing age at onset but was always highest in males. Insulin dose (U/kg) and diabetes duration at admission did not influence the incidence of proteinuria. The incidence peaked after 15-17 yr of diabetes duration independent of sex, age at diagnosis, or calendar year of diagnosis. However, the majority of patients did not develop proteinuria during 40 yr of diabetes. This suggests individual renal susceptibility to the deleterious effect of hyperglycemia.