Optimality theories of ageing predict that the balance between reproductive effort and somatic maintenance determines the rate of ageing. Laboratory studies find that increased reproductive effort shortens lifespan, but through increased short-term mortality rather than ageing. In contrast, high fecundity in early life is associated with accelerated senescence in free-living vertebrates, but these studies are non-experimental. We performed lifelong brood size manipulation in free-living jackdaws. Actuarial senescence – the increase in mortality rate with age – was threefold higher in birds rearing enlarged- compared to reduced broods, confirming a key prediction of the optimality theory of ageing. Our findings contrast with the results of single-year brood size manipulation studies carried out in many species, in which there was no overall discernible manipulation effect on mortality. We suggest that our and previous findings are in agreement with predictions based on the reliability theory of ageing and propose further tests of this proposition.