Italy and Spain are often labeled by the literature on comparative welfare as "familistic" welfare systems. Although it is not possible to find a unified criteria which defines and specifies what is meant by "familism" as a feature of a given welfare state model, generally speaking the term refers to the key role that the family plays in the overarching architecture of the welfare system, acting as the main provider of care and welfare for children and dependent individuals. This article will reflect on these questions by critically revising the framing of Southern European welfare states as "familistic" in the comparative welfare and care regimes literature. We will then look at trends of female labour force participation in Italy and Spain over the last two decades (1990-2010) in terms of the intensity of women's participation in the labour market and their prevailing pattern of participation for both countries. We will look at activity, employment and unemployment according to age, education level, civil status and number of children; and patterns of participation by looking at permanency in employment and type of contract (part-time/full-time and fixed-term). The idea here is to analyse the extent to which Italy and Spain have (or have not) made the transition from a 'male breadwinner model' (where women remain outside paid employment) towards a more diversified pattern of family formation with regards the labour market participation of women. The purpose will also be that of stressing divergences between these two countries in their evolution of their female labour force that may question their assumed similarities.