When Australians are happiest in life

Life satisfaction improves after the first year of leaving work… Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Most people generally see life in a positive light.

But there are some life stages when Australians are not that happy with what the universe has thrown at them, according to analysis of the HILDA (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia) survey.

The study tracked almost 27,000 Australians as they moved through stages of life: leaving the parental home; forming a relationship; having children; relationship separation; becoming empty nesters; retirement; and the death of a partner.

From the data, the secret to being happy is having a life partner and living long past the age of 50.

Here’s how life satisfaction changes as we age:

Researcher David de Vaus, of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, says there’s a sharp decline in life satisfaction from the age of 15 to the early 20s, followed by a further gradual fall from the early 20s to the mid 30s.

Stable but lower satisfaction comes in the mid 30s. But from the early 50s life begins to improve both steadily and substantially until the late 60s.

From the late 60s to the early 80s, satisfaction is steady and near the highest of any time in life. From the early 80s, satisfaction begins to decline a little but remains better than most earlier life stages.

There’s a slight difference between men and women. In adolescence, boys tend to be a little more satisfied than girls.
From the age of 20 through to the mid-50s, women are on average are more satisfied. From the mid-60s there’s little difference.

Here’s a run down on the key events in a life:

Leaving the parental home

On average, there is no change in life satisfaction from the year before leaving home to the year after for either men or women. But four years after leaving home, young women were more satisfied than men.


Being a couple is good for you and brings a marked and sustained rise in life satisfaction for both sides of the partnership.

Birth of a child

A child is linked to a rise in life satisfaction before the birth but this falls of afterwards for both men and women.

Satisfaction for women fell a little in the first year and sharply in the second. Among men there was little noticeable change in the year after the birth.

In the fifth year after the birth, the decline is reversed and shows a small improvement, coinciding with children starting school.


The break up of a relationship brings a sharp fall in happiness for both men and women.

This drop begins well before separation for women. For men, the fall is greater right after separation.

Life satisfaction of both men and women improves steadily for the next six years but only recovers to the level of about two years prior to the breakup.

However, life satisfaction recovers for those who find new partners to much higher levels than those who stay single.

Empty nest

The last child leaving the family home has a relatively modest impact, bringing a small rise in life satisfaction.

A gradual improvement is seen during the six years before the nest emptying, perhaps reflecting declining parental responsibility and stresses.


In the year immediately after retirement there is no change in life satisfaction for men and only a marginal rise for women.

But life satisfaction for both men and women mostly improves after the first year of leaving work.


In the year after the death of a partner, life satisfaction hits a low point. It recovers rapidly and sharply but not to the same level as before.

Women recover faster than men but by six years afterward both men and women have the same level of life satisfaction.

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