Excellent reproductive performance in both males and females is fundamental to profitable dairy and beef production systems. In this review we undertook a meta-analysis of genetic parameters for female reproductive performance across 55 dairy studies or populations and 12 beef studies or populations as well as across 28 different studies or populations for male reproductive performance. A plethora of reproductive phenotypes exist in dairy and beef cattle and a meta-analysis of the literature suggests that most of the female reproductive traits in dairy and beef cattle tend to be lowly heritable (0.02 to 0.04). Reproductive-related phenotypes in male animals (e.g. semen quality) tend to be more heritable than female reproductive phenotypes with mean heritability estimates of between 0.05 and 0.22 for semen-related traits with the exception of scrotal circumference (0.42) and field non-return rate (0.001). The low heritability of reproductive traits, in females in particular, does not however imply that genetic selection cannot alter phenotypic performance as evidenced by the decline until recently in dairy cow reproductive performance attributable in part to aggressive selection for increased milk production. Moreover, the antagonistic genetic correlations among reproductive traits and both milk (dairy cattle) and meat (beef cattle) yield is not unity thereby implying that simultaneous genetic selection for both increased (milk and meat) yield and reproductive performance is indeed possible. The required emphasis on reproductive traits within a breeding goal to halt deterioration will vary based on the underlying assumptions and is discussed using examples for Ireland, the United Kingdom and Australia as well as quantifying the impact on genetic gain for milk production. Advancements in genomic technologies can aid in increasing the accuracy of selection for especially reproductive traits and thus genetic gain. Elucidation of the underlying genomic mechanisms for reproduction could also aid in resolving genetic antagonisms. Past breeding programmes have contributed to the deterioration in reproductive performance of dairy and beef cattle. The tools now exist, however, to reverse the genetic trends in reproductive performance underlying the observed phenotypic trends.