Western societies are ageing rapidly. Today people do not only live longer, they also have fewer children. These developments exert considerable pressure on welfare states. Children have usually been the mainstay of old age support, especially when there is no partner. We thus face new challenges: On which support networks can a growing number of childless older people rely? (How) can the lack of children be compensated in the informal social network? What role does the state play and how is informal and formal support linked? Our comparative analyses of the support networks of childless elders are based on the first two waves of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, including 14,394 people with (instrumental) activities of daily living limitations aged 50 and over from 12 European countries. On average, 10 per cent of older Europeans today have no children. Sporadic informal support for these elders is often taken over by the extended family, friends and neighbours, and thus the lack of children is compensated within the social network. Intense care tasks, however, are more likely provided by professional providers, especially in the case of childless older people. In countries with low social service provision, childless elders are therefore likely to experience a lack of (formal) support, especially when depending on vital care.