Experimental estimation of damping is currently not a comprehensively solved problem. Although modal frequencies and mode shapes can be measured confidently and quite easily by means of dynamic tests on civil structures, an accurate identification of damping ratios needs further development. Experimental values can be characterized by large error bounds mainly because damping is strongly influenced by the magnitude of the dynamic response of a structure.In this paper, the main issues concerning identification of modal damping ratios are discussed in order to define methods for their reliable estimation, to reduce uncertainties and characterize error bounds. According to this aim, a procedure for optimized modal parameter estimation via Stochastic Subspace Identification is also proposed. Then data collected from an extensive literature review are analyzed depending on the type of structure in order to point out the main factors affecting damping. Moreover, a comparison with provisions about structural damping given in National and International seismic codes for structural design of civil structures is reported. This process demonstrates that the development of a damping database based on homogeneous and reliable estimates is required for calibration of predictive formulations to be used in the framework of performance-based seismic design.