The contemporary pattern of intraspecific genetic variation can indicate the relative role of gene flow and local differentiation in shaping the evolutionary history and future trajectory of a species. To assess the recent influence of contrasting life history and demographic characteristics on genetic structure within a group of closely related species, patterns of genetic differentiation (FST and related statistics) and isolation by distance (IBD) were compared among 17 congeneric herbaceous plant species. Data came from 35 published studies of 16 species, and a previously unpublished analysis of chloroplast genetic variation in the rare endemic Silene rotundifolia. Among-population genetic variance was most strongly influenced by the type of genetic marker used; cytoplasmic markers showed larger values than allozyme and anonymous nuclear markers. Other independently significant factors were geographical range size and, for allozyme studies, reproductive system; in particular, endemism and hermaphroditism were associated with higher among-population genetic variance, whereas large native geographical range and dioecy were associated with lower among-population variance. Over equivalent spatial scales, dioecious populations also showed weaker IBD than hermaphrodites, perhaps because increased population transience and/or variance in the spatial pattern of gene flow are more closely associated with dioecy in this genus. Invasive populations had both highly variable among-population genetic variance, and no evidence for IBD, consistent with nonequilibrium conditions. Other analysed factors including predominant pollinator had no discernable influence on genetic structure or patterns of IBD. In general, this comparative approach appears to be valuable for synthesizing the complementary information provided by F-statistics and IBD, and for indicating the relative importance of particular biological factors in shaping genetic variation within different species of a closely related plant group.