The effect of anthropogenic aerosol on the reflectivity of stratocumulus cloud decks through changes in cloud amount is a major uncertainty in climate projections. In frequently occurring nonprecipitating stratocumulus, cloud amount can decrease through aerosol-enhanced cloud-top mixing. The climatological relevance of this effect is debated because ship exhaust only marginally reduces stratocumulus amount. By comparing detailed numerical simulations with satellite analyses, we show that ship-track studies cannot be generalized to estimate the climatological forcing of anthropogenic aerosol. The ship track-derived sensitivity of the radiative effect of nonprecipitating stratocumulus to aerosol overestimates their cooling effect by up to 200%. The offsetting warming effect of decreasing stratocumulus amount needs to be taken into account if we are to constrain the cloud-mediated radiative forcing of anthropogenic aerosol.