Higher levels of education ‘can benefit mobsters’

People contemplating a criminal career might do well to stay in and do their homework

March 23, 2016
Mafia family at table
Source: iStock
Not all the secrets of a criminal life can be learned around the kitchen table

Higher levels of education tend to benefit those with legitimate jobs. But can it also help those who pursue a life of crime?

That was the question explored by three researchers – Nadia Campaniello and Giovanni Mastrobuoni (University of Essex) and Rowena Gray (University of California at Merced) in a paper delivered to the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference in Brighton on 21 March.

If we accept the view that schooling helps to socialise people so they work without complaint within hierarchical organisations, they suggest, then schools might seem “an ideal training environment for aspiring mobsters”.

Education might teach some of the numerical and analytical skills useful in racketeering (extracting the optimal rent), loan-sharking (weighting interests against default risks) and drug-dealing (setting up supply chains). And it might even “increase an offender’s ability to avoid apprehension and punishment”.

But how can we assess such speculations and determine whether “the returns to education in the mafia are similar to the ones ordinary workers enjoy”?

To answer this question, the researchers “searched for 723 members of the Italian-American mafia whose details were listed in the 1960 Federal Bureau of Narcotics records”. They managed to find 414 of them in the 1940 census records, giving information about education, (declared) income, housing value or rent. These could then be compared with similar details for their closest neighbours, who were unlikely to be fellow mafiosi.

After detailed statistical analysis, the paper, titled “Returns to Education and Experience in Criminal Organizations: Evidence from the Italian-American Mafia”, comes to some clear conclusions.

Extra years of schooling bring “a positive return not only in legitimate activities, but also in illegitimate ones…at least for career criminals operating at a high level in complex organizations who perpetrate serious crimes, education is quite valuable”.


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