Objective: Northern so-called welfare societies are struggling to maintain their provision of pensions and public services, or already cut down on them. In Spain, an initial and promising supply of public services at the turn of the century has stalled, and the financial crisis impel many families to double up with or in other ways rely on their elders. Similar tendencies can be discerned in Sweden. We explore the increasingly important role of many older persons in their family. Data and methods: We use available surveys and demographic data for Spain and Sweden to describe and analyse inter- and intragenerational exchanges of services, care and financial assistance. Results: Demographic and economic aspects are vital to an understanding of the growing importance of family ties in both countries. Household patterns and care given and received by the older generation are increasingly decisive for individual welfare in Sweden and, especially, Spain. Policy implications: We suggest some surprising similarities between Spain and Sweden in the big and growing importance of family ties and of older persons in that context, both in an iconic welfare country such as Sweden and in a traditionally "familistic" but now nascent welfare society, Spain.