Understanding which life-history variables have the greatest influence on population growth rate has great ecological and conservation importance. Applying models of population regulation and demographic mechanisms can aid management and conservation of both wild and captive populations. By comparisons of sensitivity, elasticity, and life-table response analyses, we identified demographic processes that were most likely to produce changes in population size (via prospective analyses) and the traits that actually influenced population changes (via retrospective analyses) among sexes, zoological facilities, and generations of captive squirrel monkey populations (Saimiri sciureus). Variation in life-history traits occurs within each group analyzed. Those traits that vary the most include age at maturity, age at last reproduction, and fertility. Zoos with increasing population growth rates maintain earlier ages of maturity, later ages of last reproduction, high rates of juvenile and adult survival, and most importantly greater fertility, reflecting shorter inter-birth intervals. Using prospective analyses, juvenile and adult survivals were predicted to be demographic traits with the greatest effect on population growth. Surprisingly, and despite predictions, retrospective analyses revealed that fertility was the life-history characteristic trait that contributed the most to changes in population size. Am. J. Primatol. 73:1041–1050, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.