Social Indicators Research

, Volume 115, Issue 3, pp 999–1010 | Cite as

The influence of perceived control on subjective wellbeing in later life

  • S. de Quadros-Wander
  • J. McGillivrayEmail author
  • J. Broadbent


It has been proposed that a sense of control (primary control) is critical to maintaining positive and stable subjective wellbeing (SWB). As people age and control capacity presumably declines (due to physical and cognitive deterioration and increased sociocultural challenges), it is argued that the influence of secondary perceived control (or acceptance) increases to help maintain normative levels of SWB. While previous studies have typically investigated the relationship between perceived control and global estimates of satisfaction (i.e., overall life satisfaction), the present study evaluated the link between perceived control and seven key domains of satisfaction in order to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the control-satisfaction relationship. A community-based sample of 1,317 individuals (age range: 17–92 years) was utilised to examine potential age-related differences in perceived control (primary and secondary) and satisfaction. Findings revealed that primary and secondary perceived control both increased across age, with secondary perceived control increasing at a higher rate. Primary perceived control had predictive primacy for satisfaction over secondary perceived control (consistent with theory). A moderated mediation effect was also found, suggesting that, in later life, secondary perceived control influences primary perceived control and, in turn, influences satisfaction with various domains. Therefore, while primary control is important to wellbeing, it should be acknowledged that secondary perceived control may have unique significance to the wellbeing of older adults.


Subjective wellbeing Quality of life Perceived control Primary control Secondary control Older adults 


  1. Andrews, F. M., & Withey, S. B. (1976). Social indicators of well-being. New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arbuckle, J. L. (2009). Amos 18 user’s guide. Chicago: Amos Development Corporation.Google Scholar
  3. Bailis, D. S., Chipperfield, J. G., & Perry, R. P. (2005). Optimistic social comparisons of older adults low in primary control: A prospective analysis of hospitalisation and mortality. Health Psychology, 24(4), 393–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bramston, P. (2002). Subjective quality of life: The affective dimension. In E. Gullone & R. A. Cummins (Eds.), The universality of subjective wellbeing indicators (pp. 47–62). The Netherlands: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brandstadter, J., & Renner, G. (1990). Tenacious goal pursuit and flexible goal adjustment: Explication and age-related analysis of assimilative and accommodative strategies of coping. Psychology and Aging, 5, 58–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 917–927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chipperfield, J. G., Perry, R. P., & Menec, V. H. (1999). Primary and secondary control—Enhancing strategies. Implications for health in later life. Journal of Aging and Health, 11(4), 517–539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analyses for the behavioural sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  9. Costa, P. T., Jr., McCrae, R. R., & Zonderman, A. B. (1987). Environmental and dispositional influences on well-being: Longitudinal follow-up of an American national sample. British Journal of Psychology, 78, 299–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cummins, R. A. (1995). On the trail of the gold standard for subjective well-being. Social Indicators Research, 35, 179–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cummins, R. A. (2010). Subjective wellbeing, homeostatically protected mood and depression: A synthesis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11, 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cummins, R. A., & Nistico, H. (2002). Maintaining life satisfaction: The role of positive cognitive bias. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3, 37–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cummins, R. A., Woerner, J., Tomyn, A., Gibson, A., Lai, L., & Collard, J. (2007). Australian Unity wellbeing index: The wellbeing of AustraliansChanging conditions to make life better (No. 18.0). Melbourne: Australian Centre on Quality of Life.Google Scholar
  14. Curran, P. J., West, S. G., & Finch, J. F. (1996). The robustness of test statistics to nonnormality and specification error in confirmatory factor analysis. Psychological Methods, 1, 16–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Davern, M. T., Cummins, R. A., & Stokes, M. A. (2007). Subjective wellbeing as an affective-cognitive construct. Journal of Happiness Studies, 8, 429–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 542–575.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Diener, E., & Diener, C. (1996). Most people are happy. Psychological Science, 7, 181–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., Oishi, S., & Suh, E. M. (2002). Looking up and looking down: Weighting good and bad information in life satisfaction judgments. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(4), 437–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., & Scollon, C. N. (2006). Beyond the hedonic treadmill: Revising the adaptation theory of well-being. American Psychologist, 61(4), 305–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eid, M., & Diener, E. (2004). Global judgments of subjective well-being: Situational variability and long-term stability. Social Indicators Research, 65, 245–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Heckhausen, J. (1997). Developmental regulation across adulthood: Primary and secondary control of age-related challenges. Developmental Psychology, 33, 176–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Heckhausen, J., & Schulz, R. (1995). A life-span theory of control. Psychological Review, 102, 284–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Heckhausen, J., & Schulz, R. (1999). The primacy of primary control is a human universal: A reply to Gould’s (1999) critique of the life-span theory of control. Psychological Review, 106, 605–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Heckhausen, J., Wrosch, C., & Schulz, R. (2010). A motivational theory of lifespan development. Psychological Review, 117(1), 32–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. International Wellbeing Group. (2006). Personal wellbeing index (4th edn). Melbourne: Australian Centre on Quality of Life, Deakin University. Retrieved October 02, 2012, from:
  26. Keller, M. L., Leventhal, H., & Prohaska, T. R. (1989). Beliefs about aging and illness in a community sample. Research in Nursing & Health, 12, 247–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kempen, G. I. J. M., Ranchor, A. V., Ormel, J., Van Sonderen, E., Van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., & Sanderman, R. (2005). Perceived control and long-term changes in disability in late middle-aged and older persons: An eight-year follow-up study. Psychology and Health, 20(2), 193–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lachman, M. E. (1986). Locus of control in aging research: A case for multidimensional and domain-specific assessment. Psychology and Aging, 1, 34–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lachman, M. E., & Firth, K. M. (2004). The adaptive value of feeling in control during midlife. In O. G. Brim, C. D. Ryff, & R. Kessler (Eds.), How healthy are we? A national study of well-being at midlife (pp. 320–349). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  30. Lackovic-Grgin, K., Grgin, T., Penezic, Z., & Soric, I. (2001). Some predictors of primary control of development in three transitional periods of life. Journal of Adult Development, 8, 149–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lang, F. R., & Heckhausen, J. (2001). Perceived control over development and subjective well-being: Differential benefits across adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(3), 509–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lucas, R. E., & Gohm, C. L. (2000). Age and sex differences in subjective well-being across cultures. In E. Diener & E. M. Suh (Eds.), Culture and subjective well-being (pp. 291–317). Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  33. McQuillen, A. D., Licht, M. H., & Licht, B. G. (2003). Contributions of disease severity and perceptions of primary and secondary control to the prediction of psychosocial adjustment to Parkinson’s disease. Health Psychology, 22(5), 504–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mehlsen, M., Kirkegaard Thomsen, D., Viidik, A., Olesen, F., & Zachariae, R. (2005). Cognitive processes involved in the evaluation of life satisfaction: Implications for well-being. Aging and Mental Health, 9(3), 281–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Morling, B., & Evered, S. (2006). Secondary control reviewed and defined. Psychological Bulletin, 132(2), 269–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2008). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods, 40, 879–891.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ranzijn, R., & Luszcz, M. (1999). Acceptance: A key to wellbeing in older adults. Australian Psychologist, 34(2), 94–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Remondet, J. H., & Hansson, R. O. (1991). Job-related threats to control among older employees. Journal of Social Issues, 47, 91–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Robinson, M. D. (2000). The reactive and prospective functions of mood: Its role in linking daily experiences and cognitive well-being. Cognition and Emotion, 14, 145–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rodin, J. (1986). Aging and health: Effects of the sense of control. Science, 233, 1271–1276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rothbaum, F. M., Weisz, J. R., & Snyder, S. S. (1982). Changing the world and changing the self: A two-process model of perceived control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 5–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ruthig, J. C., Chipperfield, J. G., Perry, R. P., Newall, N. E., & Swift, A. (2007). Comparative risk and perceived control: Implications for psychological and physical well-being among older adults. The Journal of Social Psychology, 147(4), 345–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Steverink, N., Westerhof, G. J., Bode, C., & Dittman-Kohli, F. (2001). The personal experience of aging, individual resources, and subjective well-being. Journal of Gerontology, 56B, 364–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tabachnick, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (2007). Using multivariate statistics (5th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  45. Thompson, S. C., Collins, M. A., Newcomb, M. D., & Hunt, W. (1996). On fighting versus accepting stressful circumstances: Primary and secondary control among hiv-positive men in prison. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1307–1317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Tomyn, A. J., Fuller Tyszkiewicz, M. & Cummins, R. A. (2012, online first). The personal wellbeing index: Psychometric equivalence for adults and school children. Social Indicators Research.Google Scholar
  47. Windsor, T. D., Anstey, K. J., & Walker, J. G. (2008). Ability perceptions, perceived control, and risk avoidance among male and female older drivers. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 63b(2), 75–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wrosch, C., Heckhausen, J., & Lachman, M. E. (2000). Primary and secondary control strategies for managing health and financial stress across adulthood. Psychology and Aging, 15, 387–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. de Quadros-Wander
    • 1
  • J. McGillivray
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. Broadbent
    • 1
  1. 1.School of PsychologyDeakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia

Personalised recommendations