Apparently, even if you are in a criminal syndicate, it really pays to stay in school.
A new study in the Economics of Education Review compared more than 700 known members of the Italian-American mafia in the 1940s to several different groups of their male contemporaries in the 1940 Census, including neighbors (who weren’t in the mob) on the same block or street, other first- and second-generation Italian-American immigrants, and white men born in the United States.
Economists Nadia Campaniello and Giovanni Mastrobuoni of the University of Essex in the United Kingdom and Rowena Gray of the University of California at Merced found that mob-affiliated men on average had a year less of education than their unaffiliated neighbors. That makes sense, the researchers said, considering that “criminal careers are known to start very early and are likely to be interwoven with schooling choices. Individuals who choose to be part of the maﬁa are likely to trade oﬀ income and power for risk of injury, prison, and death.”
So if you plan to live fast and die young, does it make sense to stay in school? Yes, the researchers found.
Mobsters saw twice the income return on investment for furthering their education as samples of men from Italian and other immigrant groups. More education increased mobsters’ incomes by 7.5 percent to 8.5 percent on average, though that’s still 2 to 5 percentage points less than the monetary gains for U.S.-born white men and citizens.
Why? Well, the researchers suggest that criminal syndicates often require more complex math and logistics skills than your typical petty criminal. The most successful mobsters, like the infamous Chicago kingpin Al Capone, also ran above-board businesses, but extra years in school probably also came in handy for more nefarious purposes. How can you get your bootlegged gin from bathtub to speakeasy in the most efficient manner? Are you sure you are getting the best rate of return on your protection racket?
The researchers found the mobsters with the highest return on their education were those involved in the more complex and math-centric enterprises, like embezzling and racketeering. Those white-collar criminals had a three-times-higher return on educational investment than mobsters involved in violent crimes like robberies or murders.
The authors also noted that their study likely underestimates the effect of education in the criminal world. After all, this study only looked at the mobsters who got caught.
Video: Study author Giovanni Mastrobuoni of the University of Essex in the United Kingdom discusses Mafia economics. Source: Royal Economic Society.
Photo: Mafia kingpin Al Capone appears at a football game in Chicago in 1931. Source: Associated Press
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.