There's Value in a College Education, Even for Members of the Mafia

Researchers parsed 1940 United States Census data and FBI information to compare more than 700 mobsters with non-affiliated men from the same locals.
Frank Costello was known for his concern about education.

First revise
"You will earn more if you go to college," a universal American adage proclaims.

It now seems to hold true for more types of people than most of you would likely expect. Specifically, some British and American academics include Mafia members in that category.

A recent research paper titled Returns to education in criminal organizations: Did going to college help Michael Corleone? was issued by University of Essex and University of California at Merced researchers who parsed 1940 United States Census data and FBI information to compare more than 700 mobsters with non-affiliated Italian-American men from the same locals. Among their key findings: Mafiosi tend to have less college but ultimately wind up worth more than non-connected college-graduates (at least from the 1930s to the 1960s, which is the time period the research focused on. Also, the initial report (see below) reveals the FBN, not the FBI, as the law enforcement agency that provided data.)
Read about the FBN in two-part series about formation of the witness protection program.


The data specifically compared 712 Mafiosi with men not involved in organized crime who were first- and second-generation Italian-American immigrants or Italian-American citizens who lived in proximity to the wiseguys (next door, down the block, etc.)

Recently published in the Economics of Education Review, the research paper found that, for each year that a Mafia member attended college, their income level rose as much as 8.5%.

Listen to an audio podcast about this survey here, via Scientific American. (Though the decades in question span from the 1930s to '60s, not the '40's.)


That figure is on par with the return on education for the U.S. population at large at the time, and is also higher than the return for college-educated Italian immigrants who didn’t join the Mafia.

Mobsters involved in higher-level crimes -- such as labor racketeering, loan sharking, bookmaking, drug-dealing or loan-sharking -- saw the greatest return on their education.

Highlights
• Researchers estimate that Italian–American mobsters see an earnings increase of nearly close 8% per year.

• Such returns are similar to those of white men of similar age living in the same neighborhood and are larger than those of immigrants, of Italian immigrants, and of US residents of Italian descent.

• The paper found that mobsters involved in illegal businesses, like racketeering, loan sharking, bookmaking, etc., exhibited the largest returns from education. 


Giovanni Mastrobuoni, one of the paper's credited researchers, told Fortune that attending college likely proved a benefit to mobsters by sharpening their business acumen, in addition to helping them to build other skills handy to people in their field, such as "dealing with numbers, organizing your thoughts, organizing a group, and so on."

Mobsters who strictly focus on violence didn't see as great a return from a college education. (Duh...)

The research paper is billed as the first academic study of education’s impact on organized crime activity.


A college education probably wouldn't have helped Kid Twist, however.
He killed people for Murder Incorporated.

"It ... shows that college degrees prove useful nearly everywhere—even outside the law," Quartz noted in a story on the research study.


The research paper is available for sale, though your intrepid reporter found a free version that seems like a precursor to the final report. The free version only credits the British academics, who bestowed a much better title on it, in the opinion of yours truly: Returns to Education and Experience in Criminal Organizations: Evidence from the Italian-American Mafia.

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