We compiled information from the international literature to quantify the relationships between seed mass and survival through each of the hazards plants face between seed production and maturity. We found that small-seeded species were more abundant in the seed rain than large-seeded species. However, this numerical advantage was lost by seedling emergence. The disadvantage of small-seeded species probably results from size-selective post-dispersal seed predation, or the longer time small-seeded species spend in the soil before germination. Seedlings from large-seeded species have higher survival through a given amount of time as seedlings. However, this advantage seems to be countered by the greater time taken for large-seeded species to reach reproductive maturity: our data suggested no relationship, or perhaps a weak negative relationship, between seed size and survival from seedling emergence through to adulthood. A previous compilation showed that the inverse relationship between seed mass and the number of seeds produced per unit canopy area per year is countered by positive relationships between seed mass, plant size and plant longevity. Taken together, these data show that our old understanding of a species’ seed mass as the result of a trade–off between producing a few large offspring, each with high survival probability, versus producing many small offspring each with a lower chance of successfully establishing was incomplete. It seems more likely that seed size evolves as part of a spectrum of life history traits, including plant size, plant longevity, juvenile survival rate and time to reproduction.