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Fitness is the currency of natural selection, a measure of the propagation rate of genotypes into future generations. Its various definitions have the common feature that they are functions of survival and fertility rates. At the individual level, the operative level for natural selection, these rates must be understood as latent features, genetically determined propensities existing at birth. This conception of rates requires that individual fitness be defined and estimated by consideration of the individual in a modelled relation to a group of similar individuals; the only alternative is to consider a sample of size one, unless a clone of identical individuals is available. We present hierarchical models describing individual heterogeneity in survival and fertility rates and allowing for associations between these rates at the individual level. We apply these models to an analysis of life histories of Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla ) observed at several colonies on the Brittany coast of France. We compare Bayesian estimation of the population distribution of individual fitness with estimation based on treating individual life histories in isolation, as samples of size one (e.g. McGraw & Caswell, 1996).