We examined dynamical factors that shape the distribution of the number of parasites/host in constant or temporally varying environments, and with or without host-age dependent variation in host susceptibility and parasite mortality. We predict properties of the parasite distribution in the absence of density-dependent factors such as density-dependent mortality of recruitment and parasite-induced host mortality. These properties provide a criterion for the detection of density dependence in temporally variable systems with host-age dependent interactions. We have then introduced methods to estimate and statistically evaluate the effects of host age or size on the distribution of parasites/host. The methods are based on a maximum likelihood protocol for linear and non-linear regression when data are negatively binomially distributed. We have illustrated the use of the theoretical results and statistical methods by re-analysing the data of Halvorsen & Andersen (1984) on cestode infections in Norwegian arctic charr and by analysing new data on nematode infections in Caribbean Anolis lizards.