Although cooperative breeding is known from only about 9 % of bird species, it has received substantial attention because individuals foregoing their own reproduction to help others represent a long-standing evolutionary puzzle. We studied group formation, breeding system, spatial distribution and several life-history traits of white-breasted mesites (Mesitornis variegata). Based on field observations across 3 years, we found that white-breasted mesites live in year-round stable pairs, and that groups are formed by juvenile philopatry. As other family-living birds, M. variegata exhibit a slow pace-of-life, characterized by high annual adult survival, low productivity, long chick dependence and extended parental care. However, although reproduction is monogamous and juveniles showed interest in their parents' nests, we found no evidence of cooperative breeding. We suggest that slow life-histories, extended parental care and year-round territoriality predispose juvenile mesites to delay dispersal. However, adult intolerance toward older juveniles may prevent them from adopting a cooperative lifestyle. Comparisons with other species of mesite indicate that monogamy and delayed juvenile dispersal are necessary, but not sufficient for the evolution of cooperative breeding in this family of birds, and that particular ecological and social conditions have facilitated the transition from pair-living to a type of group that may represent a stepping stone in the evolution of cooperative breeding in mesites and other birds.