Margie Lachman, the Minnie and Harold Fierman Professor of Psychology, of Brandeis University, and colleagues at University of Rochester and German Institute for Economic Research, said previous studies showed people with a high school diploma or less education tend to die younger than those with a college degree or graduate training.
However, in this study, less educated people with higher perceived control in their life had a mortality rate three times lower than those with a lower sense of control.
In fact, a high sense of control seemed to negate the mortality risks of lower education, Lachman said.
"A high sense of control all but wipes out educational differences when it comes to mortality," Lachman said in a statement. "A person with less education but a high sense of control is practically indistinguishable from a person of high education."
Study participants were given the statement, "Sometimes I feel I am being pushed around in my life," and asked to rank their agreement from one for strongly disagree to seven for strongly agree.
"There are methods and strategies for improving one's sense of control, and educational experiences are one of them," Lachman said. "We could implement those approaches in educational and public health programs aimed at increasing health-promoting attitudes and behaviors and ultimately lowering mortality risks."
The study was published online in the journal of Health Psychology.