The traditional health paradigm is based on the assumption that health and mortality levels are primarily a function of the interaction between the individual and the physical environment, including physical contact with other, diseased individuals. Education also appears to be a major factor influencing mortality and life expectancy in both developed and underdeveloped countries. With regard to socioeconomic differentials in mortality in the United States, education has been shown to be the single most powerful explanatory variable; it is even more important than income. Societal attempts to exert control over the physical environment have led to the development of sociopolitical and economic systems designed to assist individual members better to cope with that environment through the distribution of available knowledge and technology. The institutions created by and established within society to mediate between individual and the physical environment play central roles in determining societal mortality rates by the manner in which they distribute income, education, food, technology, and employment/unemployment.