BACKGROUND: There is cumulating evidence that health is compromised through adverse socioeconomic conditions negatively affecting how people think, feel, and behave. Low control beliefs might be a key mechanism. The reversed possibility that low control beliefs might set people on a pathway towards adverse socioeconomic and health-related outcomes is much less examined. METHODS: A case-control design was used, consisting of 330 cases who dropped out of school in the 2010-2011 school year and 330 controls who still attended school at the end of that year. The respondents, aged between 18 and 23, came from Eindhoven and surrounding areas in the south-east of The Netherlands. A questionnaire asked for current health status, recalled socioeconomic and social background, and recalled control beliefs (mastery and general self-efficacy). Logistic regression analyses were used. RESULTS: Recalls of low mastery and low self-efficacy were strongly related to both dropout and less than good health. Low socioeconomic background was also associated to odds of dropout, but did not confound or moderate the associations of low control beliefs with dropout and health. Odds ratios of dropout and less than good health indicated at least twice the odds of a poor outcome with recalls of low control beliefs. CONCLUSIONS: Independent of the socioeconomic background, low control beliefs are related to heightened odds of both poor health and school dropout. Individual differences in control beliefs might thus be as fundamental as socioeconomic conditions in generating life-course socioeconomic and health-related pathways. Although the findings should first be cross-validated in prospective studies, public health professionals working with youth might already start considering early interventions in youth with all too fatalistic and powerless mind-sets.