The number of times an organism reproduces (i.e. its mode of parity) is a fundamental life-history character, and evolutionary and ecological models that compare the relative fitness of strategies are common in life history theory and theoretical biology. Despite the success of mathematical models designed to compare intrinsic rates of increase between annual-semelparous and perennial-iteroparous reproductive schedules, there is widespread evidence that variation in reproductive allocation among semelparous and iteroparous organisms alike is continuous. This paper reviews the ecological and molecular evidence for the continuity and plasticity of modes of parity--that is, the idea that annual-semelparous and perennial-iteroparous life histories are better understood as endpoints along a continuum of possible strategies. I conclude that parity should be understood as a continuum of different modes of parity, which differ by the degree to which they disperse or concentrate reproductive effort in time. I further argue that there are three main implications of this conclusion: (1) That seasonality should not be conflated with parity; (2) that mathematical models purporting to explain the evolution of semelparous life histories from iteroparous ones (or vice versa) should not assume that organisms can only display either an annual-semelparous life history or a perennial-iteroparous one; and (3) that evolutionary ecologists should examine the physiological or molecular basis of traits underlying different modes of parity, in order to obtain a general understanding of how different life history strategies can evolve from one another.