A model which defines fitness in terms of the intrinsic rate of increase of phenotypes is used to analyse which life cycles are appropriate to which ecological circumstances. The following predictions are made for asexual animals and those sexual animals producing on average more than one daughter per brood. If there are no behavioural or physiological interactions between variables, then number of offspring per breeding should be maximized, survival until first/next breeding should be maximized, and time to first/next breeding should be minimized. If interactions occur such that altering one life-cycle variable affects another, then there are trade-offs between variables and the optimum trade-off will maximize fitness. Number of offspring per breeding will generally affect adult survivorship until next breeding. Given certain reasonable assumptions about this trade-off, high juvenile survivorship selects towards semelparity (many offspring per brood), low juvenile survivorship selects towards iteroparity (few offspring per brood). If juvenile survival depends on adult feeding, as in altricial birds, then juvenile survivorship declines as clutch size is increased. Optimal clutch size maximizes the number of surviving offspring per brood. Two trade-offs involve parental care. If parents guard their offspring they should take more risks if brood size is larger. The amount that parents feed their offspring should depend on how effective feeding is in enhancing growth. Growth may also be enhanced by taking risks, in juveniles or adults. The extent of risk-taking should depend on how effective risk-taking is in enhancing growth. If the number of offspring per brood is related to growing conditions for offspring, the prediction is that more offspring per brood should be produced if growing conditions for offspring are better. If the adult can protect the offspring, for example by encapsulating them, the amount of protection provided should depend on how effective the protection is in increasing offspring survivorship.