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In Europe over the last two decades, marketization has become an important policy option in elder care. Comparative studies predominantly adopt an institutional perspective and analyze the politics and policies of marketization. This analysis takes a step back and examines the fundamental ideas underpinning the policies of marketization, using the ‘What's the problem?’ approach by Carol Bacchi. The central question is how the market was discursively framed as the solution to the perceived problems of three different systems of elder care, and how such processes are similar or different across the three countries. The analysis includes two extreme types of elder care systems, the Nordic public systems in Denmark and Finland, and the Southern European family-based model in Italy. Empirically, the analysis offers interesting insights into processes of constructing and legitimating markets at the level of discourse; this occurs by defining specific problem representations, underlying assumptions and silences. In all three countries, marketization is presented as a solution which builds on rather than challenges dominant ideas of care. Conceptually, in addition to its institutions, it is crucial to understand the ideas behind the marketization of elder care. Ideas emerge as a key leverage for making policies and practices of marketization acceptable and which decision makers and other influential political/societal actors use in policy and public debates. The importance of ideas is further underlined by the fact that they do not necessarily relate to the institutions of elder care systems in a linear way.