More years of schooling pay off—even for mobsters, a study published in the Economics of Education has found.
Researchers compared more than 700 known members of the Italian-American mafia in the 1940s with several different groups of male contemporaries in the 1940 U.S. Census, including neighbors who weren’t in the mob, other first- and second-generation Italian-American immigrants, and U.S.-born men from other backgrounds.
The authors found that the mob-affiliated men on average had a year less of formal education than their unaffiliated neighbors. However, mobsters saw twice the income return on investment for furthering their education than the men from other Italian and immigrant groups. More education increased mobsters’ incomes by 7.5 percent to 8.5 percent a year on average, though that’s still 2 percentage points to 5 percentage points less than the gains for U.S.-born men.
One reason why, the authors suggest, is that criminal syndicates require more complex math and logistics skills than typical street crimes. 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 nefarious purposes. The mobsters with the highest financial return on their education were involved in 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 and murders.
The study also likely underestimates the effect of education in the criminal world. After all, it only looked at the mobsters who got caught.
A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2016 edition of Education Week as Schooling Yields Financial Rewards for Mobsters, Researchers Find