Genome projects allow us to sample copies of a retrotransposon sequence family residing in a host genome. The variation in DNA sequence between these individual copies will reflect the evolutionary process that has spread the sequences through the genome. Here I review quantitatively the expected diversity of elements belonging to a transposable genetic element family. I use a simple neutral model for replicative mobile DNAs such as retrotransposons to predict the extent of sequence variability between members of a single family of transposable elements, both within and between species. The effects of horizontal transfer are also explored. I also consider the impact on these distributions of an increase in transposition rate arising from a mutational change in copy of the sequence. In addition, I consider the question of the interaction between retrotransposons and their hosts, and the causes of the abundance of transposable elements in the genomes that they occupy.