Perceived personal control buffers terminal decline in well-being

Denis Gerstorf, Jutta Heckhausen, Nilam Ram, Frank Infurna, Jürgen Schupp, Gert G. Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Recent research has repeatedly demonstrated that well-being typically evinces precipitous deterioration close to the end of life. However, the determinants of individual differences in these terminal declines are not well understood. In this study, we examine the role of perceived personal control as a potential buffer against steep terminal declines in well-being. We applied single- and multiphase growth models to up to 25-year longitudinal data from 1,641 now-deceased participants of the national German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP; age at death: M = 74 years; SD = 14; 49% women). Results revealed that perceiving more personal control over one's life was related to subsequently higher late-life well-being, less severe rates of late-life declines, and a later onset of terminal decline. Associations were independent of key predictors of mortality, including age, gender, SES, and disability. These findings suggest that feeling in control may ameliorate steep end-of-life decline in well-being. We also discuss scenarios for when and how processes of goal disengagement and giving up control may become beneficial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)612-625
Number of pages14
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014


  • Control perceptions
  • Control strivings
  • Differential aging
  • German socio-economic panel study
  • Mortality
  • Multiphase growth model
  • SOEP
  • Successful aging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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