The honeymoon period for Australia’s married couples barely extends beyond the bridal waltz, with new research revealing people are least satisfied with life in the first year of marriage. The latest Australian Unity Wellbeing Index survey released today finds people married for less than a year have lower levels of wellbeing than people in any other year of marriage.

While this wedding hangover lasts 12 months, it eventually recedes. Satisfaction with life bounces back in the second year of marriage and is maintained at a high level throughout the length of the relationship, whether for four years or 40. Married people have higher average wellbeing than those who are single, divorced, separated or widowed, the report "The Impact of Marriage on Wellbeing’’ shows.

But the first year of marriage is the unhappiest. People married for less than a year have an average Personal Wellbeing Index (PWI) score of 73.9, the survey finds, scraping into the bottom end of the normal range for all Australians of between 73.8 and 76.7.

By their second year, the average PWI score for married people rises to 78.4, and from there it consistently tracks at the top end or above the normal range for all durations of marriage. The happiest married people in Australia are those who’ve clocked up 40 or more years together.

"One might be tempted to think newly-married couples are blissfully happy and over the years that feeling will gradually abate as they settle into a long life together, but this turns out not to be the case," says the report’s lead author Dr Melissa Weinberg of Deakin University’s Australian Centre on Quality of Life.

"Big changes occur in the first year of married life, and not all of them are comfortable for newlyweds. Significant costs can be associated with a new marriage – the cost of the wedding for a start, and potentially the costs involved in purchasing a new house," Dr Weinberg says.

"De facto couples do not show the same trends for life satisfaction in their first year together. So it boils down to what I call a wedding hangover, couples building up to the wedding day as the best day of their life, and then finding reality biting as they tote up their wedding bills and get back to work after the honeymoon."

"The message for newly married couples is to persevere through that first frantic year, and reap the rewards later,’’ she says.

The report finds marriage does contribute positively to overall wellbeing. Married people overall exhibit the highest wellbeing of any group, closely followed by those who are widowed or in de facto relationships, while those who are separated have the lowest satisfaction with life. And, according to the survey results, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, with widowed people reporting higher average wellbeing than those who have never married.

Another key finding in the survey is that married women consistently report higher wellbeing than married males, however long the person has been married.

Rohan Mead, group managing director of Australian Unity, said the research findings show the close correlation between a stable relationship and wellbeing. "This supports other aspects of the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, which shows the importance of positive relationships – of all kinds – to wellbeing,’’ Mr Mead says.

The telephone survey of 2000 people finds both personal wellbeing, a measure of people’s satisfaction with their own lives, and national wellbeing, a measure of satisfaction with life in Australia, has remained virtually unchanged since late 2011.

For further information, or a copy of the full report, please contact:

Dr Melissa Weinberg: (03) 9244 6732, 0402 039 491 or melissa.weinberg@deakin.edu.au

Stephen Lunn, Australian Unity Senior Manager Public Policy: (03) 86826705 or slunn@australianunity.com.au