Recent studies of rates of evolution have revealed large systematic differences among organisms with different life histories, both within and among taxa. Here, we consider how life history may affect the rate of evolution via its influence on the fixation probability of slightly beneficial mutations. Our approach is based on diffusion modeling for a finite, stage-structured population with stochastic population dynamics. The results, which are verified by computer simulations, demonstrate that even with complex population structure just two demographic parameters are sufficient to give an accurate approximation of the fixation probability of a slightly beneficial mutation. These are the reproductive value of the stage in which the mutation first occurs and the demographic variance of the population. The demographic variance also determines what influence population size has on the fixation probability. This model represents a substantial generalization of earlier models, covering a large range of life histories.