In the novel “The Godfather,” Mario Puzo writes: “The lawyer with the briefcase can steal more money than the man with the gun.” And it turns out to have a bit of truth to it. It seems even members of the mob get an income bump from higher education.
Researchers at the University of Essex and University of California-Merced used US census data to study the education levels of the Italian-American mafia between 1930s and the 1960s. Their report—titled “Returns to education in criminal organizations: Did going to college help Michael Corleone?” and recently published in the Economics of Education Review—found that, for each year that a mafia member attended college, their income level rose as much as 8.5%.
That figure is on par with the return on education for the US 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 drug-dealing or loan-sharking saw the greatest return on their education. As co-author Giovanni Mastrobuoni explained to Fortune, going to college likely proved a boon to their business sense, helping them with skills like “dealing with numbers, organizing your thoughts, organizing a group, and so on.” That’s probably also why mafia members involved in simple violent crime didn’t see quite as high a return on their college degrees.
Not only is the paper the first academic attempt to study education’s effects on criminal activity, it also shows that college degrees prove useful nearly everywhere—even outside the law. “Behind every successful fortune, there is crime” was another choice Puzo quote.