Background The national hip registers of the Nordic countries provide an opportunity to compare age- and sex-standardized annual incidence of primary total hip replacement (THR) and types of implants used for primary hip osteoarthritis (OA) in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Methods The data on THR were from the national total hip replacement registries, and population data were from the national statistics agencies. Annual incidence density per 100,000 was calculated for each 5-year age group and it was age- standardized using the WHO European standard population. Results Crude country-specific annual incidence (all ages) for 1996-2000 varied between 73 and 90. WHO age- standardized annual incidence (all ages) varied between 61 (Finland) and 84 (Iceland). For the ages 50-89, comprising 94-98% of all THRs for OA, annual incidence varied between 217 (Finland) and 309 (Iceland). For Norway, the sex incidence ratio (women/men) was 2, and for the other countries it was between 1.1 and 1.3. The use of uncemented and hybrid replacements was considerably higher in Finland and Denmark than in the other countries. Interpretation We found overall similarity in THR incidence between the 5 Nordic countries, but substantial differences between women and men, and in the use of different types of implant. Population-based, age-standardized and disease-specific information on THR incidence is required in order to properly explore the causes of differences in provision and practice of THR in different countries, regions and groups, and it will aid in projecting future needs.