Investigating the mechanisms underlying female mate choice is important for sexual-selection theory, but also for population-genetic studies, because distinctive breeding strategies affect differently the dynamics of gene diversity within populations. Using field-monitoring, genetic-assignment, and laboratory-rearing methods, we investigated chorus attendance, mating success and offspring fitness in a population of lek-breeding tree-frogs (Hyla arborea) to test whether female choice is driven by good genes or complementary genes. Chorus attendance explained ∼50% of the variance in male mating success, but did not correlate with offspring fitness. By contrast, offspring body mass and growth rate correlated with male attractiveness, measured as the number of matings obtained per night of calling. Genetic similarity between mating partners did not depart from random, and did not affect offspring fitness. We conclude that females are able to choose good partners under natural settings and obtain benefits from the good genes, rather than compatible genes, their offspring inherit. This heritability of fitness is likely to reduce effective population sizes below values previously estimated.