Trade-offs between life history and other traits play a key role in shaping the evolution of individuals. It is well established theoretically that the shapes of trade-off curves are as crucial to the evolutionary outcome as their strengths. However, measuring the shape of these relationships directly is often impractical. Here we use an indirect approach that examines the patterns seen within a population and then use theory to infer the shape of the trade-off curve. Using a bioassay we found that most individuals had either high susceptibility or relatively high resistance to a microparasite in a lepidopteran host population. According to general theory, this type of pattern in resistance would be most likely with a deceleratingly costly impact on fitness of increasing resistance. The implications and generality of the approach are discussed, along with the implications of the results to our understanding of the nature of innate resistance to parasites.