If childcare policy has become topical in most OECD countries over the last ten years or so, actual developments display huge cross-national variations. Countries like Sweden and Denmark spend around 2 per cent of GDP on this service, and provide affordable childcare places to most children below school age. At the other extreme, in Southern Europe, only around 10 per cent of this age group has access to formal daycare. Against this background, this article aims to account for cross-national variations in childcare services. It distinguishes two dependent variables: the coverage rate and the proportion of GDP spent subsidising childcare services. Using a mix of cross-sectional and pooled times-series methods, it tests a series of hypotheses concerning the determinants of the development of this policy. Its main conclusion for the coverage rate is that key factors are public spending and wage dispersion (both positive). For spending, key factors are the proportion of women in parliaments (positive) and spending on age-related policies (negative).