What is the evidence that differences in 'control over destiny' lead to socioeconomic inequalities in health? A theory-led systematic review of high-quality longitudinal studies on pathways in the living environment

Lois Catherine Orton, Andy Pennington, Shilpa Nayak, Amanda Sowden, Mark Petticrew, Martin White, Margaret Whitehead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Low control and high demand in the places where people work has been shown to partially explain why those in lower socioeconomic positions experience poorer health than their counterparts in higher socioeconomic positions. It would seem likely then that experiences of control in the wider living environment, beyond people's places of work, might also play a role in shaping these health inequalities. Our recent review of theory revealed potential pathways by which low control in the living environment might explain the social patterning of health via low control beliefs and low actual control.

METHODS: Based on the potential pathways identified in our review of theory, we conducted a systematic review of longitudinal studies on the relationship between low control in the living environment and social inequalities in health published by January 2019, in English.

RESULTS: Six studies were included in the review. Taken together, they provide evidence that lower social positions are associated with lower control beliefs and poorer health outcomes, in terms of heart disease, anxiety, depression and self-rated health, and that some of the association between low social position and health outcomes is explained by low control beliefs. No studies investigated the pathway from low actual control to poorer health in more disadvantaged groups.

CONCLUSION: There is strong evidence from a small number of high-quality longitudinal studies that low perceived control in the living environment may play an important role in the pathways leading from low social position to poorer health and well-being. Further studies are needed to distinguish between the effects of having low control beliefs and having actual low control.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of epidemiology and community health
Early online date21 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2019.


  • control over destiny
  • health
  • inequalities
  • social determinants
  • socioeconomic status
  • systematic review

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