Recent theory suggests that much of the wide variation in individual behavior that exists within cooperative animal societies can be explained by variation in the future direct component of fitness, or the probability of inheritance. Here we develop two models to explore the effect of variation in future fitness on social aggression. The models predict that rates of aggression will be highest toward the front of the queue to inherit and will be higher in larger, more productive groups. A third prediction is that, in seasonal animals, aggression will increase as the time available to inherit the breeding position runs out. We tested these predictions using a model social species, the paper wasp Polistes dominulus. We found that rates of both aggressive "displays" (aimed at individuals of lower rank) and aggressive "tests" (aimed at individuals of higher rank) decreased down the hierarchy, as predicted by our models. The only other significant factor affecting aggression rates was date, with more aggression observed later in the season, also as predicted. Variation in future fitness due to inheritance rank is the hidden factor accounting for much of the variation in aggressiveness among apparently equivalent individuals in this species.