When a phenological shift affects a demographic vital rate such as survival or reproduction, the altered vital rate may or may not have population-level consequences. We review the evidence that climate change affects populations by shifting species’ phenologies, emphasizing the importance of demographic life-history theory. We find many examples of phenological shifts having both positive and negative consequences for vital rates. Yet, few studies link phenological shifts to changes in vital rates known to drive population dynamics, especially in plants. When this link is made, results are largely consistent with life-history theory: Phenological shifts have population-level consequences when they affect survival in longer-lived organisms and reproduction in shorter-lived organisms. However, there are just as many cases in which demographic mechanisms buffer population growth from phenologically induced changes in vital rates. We provide recommendations for future research aiming to understand the complex relationships among climate, phenology, and demography, which will help to elucidate the extent to which phenological shifts actually alter population persistence.