Dependent older people are predominantly cared for by family members, mostly partners and children, but not every parent in need is cared for by a child, and intergenerational care varies widely across Europe. Previous studies have used care regimes to explain these differences, but because of the lack of large comparative surveys, the prevalence of intergenerational care has rarely been related directly to the institutional and cultural context, including state care provision, legal obligations between family members, and societal opinion about the role of the state in elderly care. This paper reports an analysis of variations in intergenerational care among European countries and the reasons for these differences using data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe for Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Results from logistic multilevel models show that care by children is influenced by the individual characteristics of both parents and children, and by family structures, welfare-state institutions and cultural norms. Intergenerational care is more prevalent in southern and central European countries, where children are legally obligated to support parents in need, and care is perceived as a responsibility of the family, whereas in northern Europe, the wider availability of formal care services enable adult children, particularly daughters, have more choice about their activities and use of time.