The aim of this study was to conduct an economic evaluation of neonatal intensive care for extremely low birthweight (ELBW) infants born in the state of Victoria. Two distinct eras (1979–80 and 1985–87) were compared. Follow-up data at 2 years of age were available for all 89 survivors from the 351 live births in 1979–80, and for 211 of 212 survivors from the 560 live births in 1985–87. The overall cost-effectiveness for ELBW infants during 1985–87 compared with 1979–80 was$104 990 ($A 1987) per additional survivor, or$5390 ($A 1987) per additional life year gained. Cost-effectiveness improved with increasing birthweight. If the quality of life of the survivors was considered, the economic outlook was more favourable. The cost per quality-adjusted life year gained was$5090 ($A 1987), approximately one-tenth of that obtained from the only previous full economic evaluation of neonatal intensive care. Although neonatal intensive care is expensive, it compares favourably with some other health care programmes, particularly as the outcome for ELBW infants continues to improve.