The article evaluates how gender issues have been conceptualized in the development and consolidation of Spanish social policy and specifically, in the social protection system. Transformations in social policy from the Franco regime to the present have been informed by shifts in the understanding of familialism, considered as a dimension of variation in social provision centred on the family and women's unpaid work. Conservative-corporatist in its origins, the Spanish welfare state initially displayed features of a typical male-breadwinner model. Since democratization, there have been significant moves away from the original type, with many changes driven by concerns for gender equality. Familialism, no longer the ideology behind welfare policies, is reinforced in practice through certain welfare programmes, chiefly the social security system, and persists at the level of social organization. Spanish 'familialism' is distinctively different from the continental model but remarkably consistent with that of other south European countries.