Social Indicators Research

, Volume 69, Issue 3, pp 303–349 | Cite as

Effect of family structure on life satisfaction: australian evidence

  • M. D. R. Evans
  • Jonathan Kelley


How do family arrangements affect subjective well-being? We investigate this issue using data pooled from the IsssA and HILDA, both large, representative national samples of Australia (pooled n=38 447). Our regression analysis of cross-sectional and panel data examines how large are the differences in life satisfaction according to marital status and cohabitation. We find that women and men in formal marriages experience higher levels of life satisfaction than do people in other family arrangements. Moreover, both multiple tests in the cross-section, and tests controlling for prior happiness in the panel analysis, suggest that this is a causal relationship. Aggregating up the levels of life satisfaction generated by different marriage and cohabitation arrangements across a lifetime, suggests that a life-long marriage is the most satisfying. Early divorce followed by an enduring second marriage is little worse (because little time is spent outside the married state). But divorce without remarriage, or long lasting cohabitation without formal marriage, reduce the lifetime sum of subjective well-being by 4–12% for both women and men.

Cohabition divorce life satisfaction marriage subjective well-being 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Andrews, F. M. and S. B. Withey: 1976, Social Indicators of Well-being (Plenum, New York).Google Scholar
  2. Bachrach, C.: 1986,’Cohabitation and reproductive behaviour’, Demography 24, pp. 623–637.Google Scholar
  3. Bean, C. S.: 1991, ‘Comparison of National Social Science Survey with the 1986 Census’ NSSS Report 2, pp. 12–19. Available at Scholar
  4. Becker, G. S.: 1991, A Treatise on the Family (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA).Google Scholar
  5. Bennett, N. G., A. K. Blanc and D. E. Bloom: 1988, ‘Commitment and the modern union–assessing the link between premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital stability’, American Sociological Review 53, pp. 127–138.Google Scholar
  6. Bernard, J.: 1982, The Future of Marriage (Yale University Press, New Haven).Google Scholar
  7. Brown, S. and A. Booth: 1996, ‘Cohabitation vs marriage: a comparison of relationship quality’, Journal of Marriage and the Family 58, pp. 668–678.Google Scholar
  8. Cantril, H.: 1965, The Pattern of Human Concerns (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick).Google Scholar
  9. Cherlin, A.: 1992, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA).Google Scholar
  10. Clarkberg, M., R. M. Stolzenberg and L. J. Waite: 1995, ‘Attitudes, values, and entrance into cohabitational versus marital unions’, Social Forces 74, pp. 609–632.Google Scholar
  11. Cummins, R. A.: 1998, ‘The second approximation to an international standard for life satisfaction’, Social Indicators Research 43, pp. 307–334.Google Scholar
  12. Davis, J. A.: 1984, ‘New money, an old man/lady, and ‘Two’s Company’: subjective well-being in the NORC General Social Surveys, 1972–1982’, Social Indicators Research 15, pp. 319–350.Google Scholar
  13. Davis, J. A. and T. W. Smith: 1998, General Social Surveys, 1972–1998: Cumulative Codebook (Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT).Google Scholar
  14. Diener, E., C. L. Gohm, E. Suh and S. Oishi: 2000, ‘Similarity of the relations between marital status and subjective well-being across cultures’, Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology 31, pp. 419–436.Google Scholar
  15. Dillman, D. A.: 1993, ‘The design and administration of mail surveys’, Annual Review of Sociology 17, pp. 225–249.Google Scholar
  16. Evans, M. D. R.: 1988, ‘Choosing to be a citizen–the time-path of citizenship in Australia’, International Migration Review 22, pp. 243–264.Google Scholar
  17. Evans, M. D. R. and J. Kelley: 2002, ‘Data, measurement, and methods: AES standards’, in M. D. R. Evans and J. Kelley. (eds.), Australian Economy and Society 2001: Education, Work, and Welfare (Federation Press, Sydney).Google Scholar
  18. Forest, K. B.: 1996, ‘Gender and the pathways to subjective well-being’, Social Behavior and Personality 24, pp. 19–34.Google Scholar
  19. Frijters, P.: 1999, Explorations of Welfare and Well-being (Thela Thesis, Amsterdam).Google Scholar
  20. Haring-Hidore, M., W. A. Stock, M. A. Okun and R. A. Witter: 1985, ‘Marital status and subjective well-being: a research synthesis’, Journal of Marriage and the Family 47, pp. 947–953.Google Scholar
  21. Headey, B.: 1988, ‘The life satisfactions and priorities of Australians’, in Australian Attitudes: Social and Political Analyses From the National Social Science Survey, pp. 198–199.Google Scholar
  22. Headey, B.: 1993, ‘An economic model of subjective well-being: integrating economic and psychological theorie’, Social Indicators Research 28, pp. 97–116.Google Scholar
  23. Headey, B. and A. Wearing: 1992, Understanding Happiness: A Theory of Subjective Well-being (Longman Cheshire, Melbourne).Google Scholar
  24. Inglehart, R.: 1990, Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society (Princeton University Press, Princeton).Google Scholar
  25. Inglehart, R.: 1997, Modernization and Postmodernization (Princeton University Press, Princeton).Google Scholar
  26. Inglehart, R. and W. E. Baker: 2000, ‘Modernization, cultural change, and the persistence of traditional values’, American Sociological Review 65, pp. 19–51.Google Scholar
  27. Johnson, D. R. and A. Booth: 1998, ‘Marital quality: a product of the dyadic environment or individual factors?’ Social Forces 76, pp. 883–904.Google Scholar
  28. Kahneman, D., E. Diener and N. Schwarz (eds.): 1998, Foundations of Hendonic Psychology: Scientific Perspectives on Enjoyment and Suffering (Russel Sage Foundation, New York).Google Scholar
  29. Kelley, J. and M. D. R. Evans: 1999, ‘Australian and international survey data for multivariate analysis: The IsssA’, The Australian Economic Review 32, pp. 298–303.Google Scholar
  30. Kelley, J., M. D. R. Evans and P. Dawkins: 1998, ‘Job security in the 1990s: how much is job security worth to employees?’ Australian Social Monitor 1, pp. 1–7.Google Scholar
  31. Kurdek, L. A.: 1990, ‘Divorce history and self-reported psychological distress in husbands and wives’, Journal of Marriage and the Family 52, pp. 701–708.Google Scholar
  32. Macklin, E. D.: 1978, ‘Nonmarital heterosexual cohabitation’, Marriage and Family Review 1, pp. 1–12.Google Scholar
  33. Marks, G. N. and N. Fleming: 1999, ‘Influences and consequences of well-being among Australian young people: 1980–1995’, Social Indicators Research 46, pp. 301–323.Google Scholar
  34. Mastekaasa, A.: 1993, ‘Marital status and subjective well-being’, Social Indicators Research 29, pp. 249–276.Google Scholar
  35. Mastekaasa, A.: 1994, ‘The subjective well-being of the previously married’, Social Forces 73, pp. 665–682.Google Scholar
  36. Mastekaasa, A.: 1995a, ‘Marital dissolution and subjective distress–panel evidence’, European Sociological Review 11, pp. 173–185.Google Scholar
  37. Mosteller and Tukey: 1977, Data analysis and Regression (Addison-Wesley, Sydney).Google Scholar
  38. Pedhazur, E. J.: 1997, Multiple Regression in Behavioral Research (Harcourt Brace, New York).Google Scholar
  39. Rindfuss, R. R. and A. VandenHeuvel: 1990, ‘Cohabitation: a precursor to marriage or an alternative to being single?’, Population and Development Review 16, pp. 703–726.Google Scholar
  40. Rogers, S.J.: 1999, ‘The nexus of job satisfaction, marital satisfaction and individual well-being:does marriage order matter?’, Research in the Sociology of Work 7, pp. 141–167.Google Scholar
  41. Schwarz, N. and H. J. Hippler: 1991, ‘Response alternatives: the impact of their choice and presentation order’, in P. P. Biemer, R. M. Groves, L. E. Lyberg, N. A. Mathiowetz and S. Sudman (eds.), Measurement Errors in Surveys (Chapter 3) (Wiley, New York).Google Scholar
  42. Sikora, J.: 1997, ‘International Survey of Economic Attitudes in Australia, Finland and Poland: Comparison with the Census’, WwA: Worldwide Attitudes 1997.12.31:1-8. Available at Scholar
  43. Stack, S. and J. R. Eshleman: 1998, ‘Marital status and happiness: A 17-nation study’, Journal of Marriage and the Family 60, pp. 527–536.Google Scholar
  44. Stata: 1997, ‘Standard errors corrected for clustering’, in STATA (ed.), Stata Statistical Software: Release 5.0 (Stata Corporation, College Station TX), pp. 235–239.Google Scholar
  45. van Dijk, J. J. M, P. Mayhew and M. Killias: 1990, Experiences of Crime Across the World: Key Findings from the 1989 International Crime Survey (Kluwer Law & Taxation, Boston).Google Scholar
  46. Veenhoven, R.: 1984, Conditions of Happiness (Reidel, Dordrecht).Google Scholar
  47. Waite, L. J. and M. Gallagher: 2000, The Case for Marriage (Doubleday, New York).Google Scholar
  48. Wearing, A. J. and B. Headey: 1998, ‘Who enjoys life and why: measuring subjective well-being’, in R. Eckersley (ed.), Measuring Progress: Is Life Getting Better? (CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Vic), pp. 169–182.Google Scholar
  49. White, H.: 1980, ‘A Heteroskedasticity-consistent covariance matrix estimator and a direct test for heteroskedasticity’, Econometrica 50, pp. 1–25.Google Scholar
  50. Wooden, M.: 2002, ‘Hilda Survey Annual Report, 2002’, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. D. R. Evans
    • 1
  • Jonathan Kelley
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MelbourneQueanbeyanAustralia

Personalised recommendations