Parasites are more fecund than free-living relatives. The traditional explanation of this is that parasites have to compensate for massive mortality in the transmission phase of their life cycles, but there are neo-Darwinian problems with this interpretation. Similarly, parasites invest more resources in reproduction than free-living relatives but often live longer as adults, and yet negative correlations are expected between fecundity and longevity. These patterns and paradoxes are discussed within the context of a general life-cycle theory. The theory is also used to address questions concerning the influence of age-specific mortality on life-cycle patterns, the trade-off between gamete size and numbers, and the relative merits of gametic and non-gametic reproduction. Wherever possible, the theory is related to facts about parasites.