It has long been recognized that phylogenetic trees are more unbalanced than those generated by a Yule process. Recently, the degree of this imbalance has been quantified using the large set of phylogenetic trees available in the TreeBASE data set. In this article, a more precise analysis of imbalance is undertaken. Trees simulated under a range of models are compared with trees from TreeBASE and two smaller data sets. Several simple models can match the amount of imbalance measured in real data. Most of them also match the variance of imbalance among empirical trees to a remarkable degree. Statistics are developed to measure balance and to distinguish between trees with the same overall imbalance. The match between models and data for these statistics is investigated. In particular, age-dependent (Bellman–Harris) branching process are studied in detail. It remains difficult to separate the process of macroevolution from biases introduced by sampling. The lessons for phylogenetic analysis are clearer. In particular, the use of the usual proportional to distinguishable arrangements (uniform) prior on tree topologies in Bayesian phylogenetic analysis is not recommended.