This paper introduces the Special Issue of four empirical studies on the provision of family support to older people that have been written members of the Family Support for Older People: Determinants and Consequences (FAMSUP) network. They have in common the use of individual-level data and recognition of the importance of demographic forces, cultural variations and public policy in shaping patterns of elder care. The four papers are also explicitly comparative, and emphasise both between- and within-country differences. The European countries examined by the FAMSUP researchers exhibit several broadly similar demographic trends, but these are superimposed on very different policy regimes. The ‘macro’ focus of much comparative policy-oriented research facilitates the identification and description of population ageing, while illuminating the policy issues raised by demographic change. A macro-focus is also characteristic of much comparative welfare-state analysis. The ‘micro’ orientation of the research presented in this collection typically treats the policy environment as an implicit or residual category. We argue that progress in understanding comparative patterns of elder care, and in developing policy responses to demographic change, will be facilitated through blending the macro and micro perspectives, in which variations in the policy environment are explicitly linked to individual- and family-level behaviour.