Evolutionary life history theory seeks to explain how reproductive and survival traits are shaped by selection through allocations of an individual's resources to competing life functions. Although life-history traits evolve rapidly, little is known about the genetic and cellular mechanisms that control and couple these tradeoffs. Here, we find that two laboratory-adapted strains of C. elegans descended from a single common ancestor that lived in the 1950s have differences in a number of life-history traits, including reproductive timing, lifespan, dauer formation, growth rate, and offspring number. We identified a quantitative trait locus (QTL) of large effect that controls 24%-75% of the total trait variance in reproductive timing at various timepoints. Using CRISPR/Cas9-induced genome editing, we show this QTL is due in part to a 60 bp deletion in the 3' end of the nurf-1 gene, which is orthologous to the human gene encoding the BPTF component of the NURF chromatin remodeling complex. Besides reproduction, nurf-1 also regulates growth rate, lifespan, and dauer formation. The fitness consequences of this deletion are environment specific-it increases fitness in the growth conditions where it was fixed but decreases fitness in alternative laboratory growth conditions. We propose that chromatin remodeling, acting through nurf-1, is a pleiotropic regulator of life history trade-offs underlying the evolution of multiple traits across different species.