Multiple mating or group spawning leads to post-copulatory sexual selection, which generally favours ejaculates that are more competitive under sperm competition. In four meta-analyses we quantify the evidence that sperm competition (SC) favours greater sperm number using data from studies of strategic ejaculation. Differential investment into each ejaculate emerges at the individual level if males exhibit phenotypic plasticity in ejaculate properties in response to the likely risk and/or intensity of sperm competition after a given mating. Over the last twenty years, a series of theoretical models have been developed that predict how ejaculate size will be strategically adjusted in relation to: (a) the number of immediate rival males, with a distinction made between 0 versus 1 rival ('risk' of SC) and 1 versus several rivals ('intensity' of SC); (b) female mating status (virgin or previously mated); and (c) female phenotypic quality (e.g. female size or condition). Some well-known studies have reported large adjustments in ejaculate size depending on the relevant social context and this has led to widespread acceptance of the claim that strategic sperm allocation occurs in response to each of these factors. It is necessary, however, to test each claim separately because it is easy to overlook studies with weak or negative findings. Compiling information on the variation in outcomes among species is potentially informative about the relevance of these assumptions in different taxa or mating systems. We found strong evidence that, on average, males transfer larger ejaculates to higher quality females. The effect of female mating status was less straightforward and depended on how ejaculate size was measured (i.e. use of proxy or direct measure). There is strong evidence that ejaculate size increased when males were exposed to a single rival, which is often described as a response to the risk of SC. There is, however, no evidence for the general prediction that ejaculate size decreases as the number of rivals increases from one to several males (i.e. in response to a higher intensity of SC which lowers the rate of return per sperm released). Our results highlight how meta-analysis can reveal unintentional biases in narrative literature reviews. We note that several assumptions of theoretical models can alter an outcome's predicted direction in a given species (e.g. the effect of female mating status depends on whether there is first- or last-male sperm priority). Many studies do not provide this background information and fail to make strong a priori predictions about the expected response of ejaculate size to manipulation of the mating context. Researchers should be explicit about which model they are testing to ensure that future meta-analyses can better partition studies into different categories, or control for continuous moderator variables. © 2011 The Authors. Biological Reviews © 2011 Cambridge Philosophical Society.