We explore a set of simple, nonlinear, two-stage models that allow us to compare the effects of density dependence on population dynamics among different kinds of life cycles. We characterize the behavior of these models in terms of their equilibria, bifurcations. and nonlinear dynamics, for a wide range of parameters. Our analyses lead to several generalizations about the effects of life history and density dependence on population dynamics. Among these are: (1) iteroparous life histories are more likely to be stable than semelparous life histories; (2) an increase in juvenile survivorship tends to be stabilizing; (3) density-dependent adult survival cannot control population growth when reproductive output is high: (4) density-dependent reproduction is more likely to cause chaotic dynamics than density dependence in other vital rates; and (5) changes in development rate have only small effects on bifurcation patterns.