Marriage is not the secret to living happily ever after, with new Australian research cited Wednesday in the Herald Sun showing that couples who live together can be just as happy.
The preliminary findings, which found that married and de facto couples experience the same levels of well-being, will be presented at a conference in Melbourne next week.
They came as Australia was getting used to its new prime minister, Julia Gillard, living in a de facto relationship with her partner, Tim Mathieson.
University of Queensland PhD student Sandra Buchler, who was involved in the study, said there were no major differences when comparing the happiness of de facto and married couples with similar characteristics — such as age, education, income and satisfaction with their partners.
"Research consistently finds people who are married have significantly higher levels of well-being and happiness compared to people of other marital status," she said.
"But the differences diminish when you compare people of similar characteristics.”
"I think it is the life stage of an individual that determines happiness more so than marital status. However, marital status and the life course are very interconnected."
Census figures showed the number of Australian couples living together rose from just under six percent in 1986 to almost 15 percent in 2006.
Couples who lived together before getting married increased from about two percent in the 1960s to about 75 percent in 2006.
The project, to be unveiled at the Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, was based on about 12,000 people tracked in the Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia survey over eight years.
But the Australian Family Association (AFA) said happiness was subjective and the study was not a deep analysis of the intricacies of relationships, with AFA spokeswoman Terri Kelleher saying marriage was an important element when raising children, particularly for stability.