Employed workers cannot access unemployment insurance as a matter of choice. Benefit periods and benefit amounts vary between groups in the population. Unemployment benefit recipients have not only rights to benefits but also obligations to meet in order to maintain eligibility. The existence of functional equivalent benefit schemes contributes to benefit transition and substitution. All these aspects are of crucial importance both for the economic well-being of families with unemployed members and for policymaking. This article illustrates some of these complex institutional aspects through an analysis of benefits for unemployment in a number of northern European countries in 1996 and by reference to recent Danish experiences.