Doctor of Philosophy
Some criminological theories of white collar crime suggest, both implicitly and explicitly, that white-collar criminals are an exceptional type of offender in comparison with other criminals. On the other hand, other scholarship implies the opposite, suggesting that white collar criminals are no different than other types of criminals, and hence, they are believed to be generalist offenders. As such, the following manuscript attempts to examine the following question: are white-collar criminals exceptional?
The data utilized for the analysis are an amalgamation of two nationally representative surveys originating in the United States - the 2004 Survey of Inmates in Federal Correctional Facilities and the 2004 Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities. While the total number of cases in the dataset is 18,185, the final analytical sample utilized for the present study is 1,702 respondents. More specifically, it includes 97 white collar criminals, 307 blue collar criminals, and 1,298 thieves.
The current project employed a two pronged methodological approach. First, binary logistic regression analyses were conducted comparing white-collar and blue-collar criminals to other types of thieves. The results of these analyses show partial support for both arguments. In line with the idea that white collar criminals are exceptional, the regression models show that they are indeed less likely than thieves to: (1) have a history of property crime; (2) have juvenile delinquency antecedents; (3) heavily use drugs; (4) heavily use cocaine. For many of these outcomes, the analysis also indicates that high education is a key correlate, additional evidence of exceptionalism. Blue collar criminals are exceptional on only two outcomes: (1) juvenile delinquency; (2) heavy drug use.
In contrast, the regression analyses also provided support for the idea that white collar criminals are not exceptional, and may well be similar to street criminals such as thieves. More specifically, there is no measurable difference between white collar criminals and thieves on: (1) history of violence; (2) heavy alcohol use; and (3) heavy stimulant use.
Similarly, there is no measurable difference between blue collar criminals and thieves on: (1) history of violence; (2) history of property crime; (3) heavy alcohol use; (4) heavy stimulant use; (5) heavy cocaine use.
In the second part of the analysis, two-step cluster analysis (a tool for typology-building) was employed in order to create a unique typology of occupational offenders. The results of the clustering revealed four unique groups of occupational offenders. Two groups are in line with the hypothesis of the ‘exceptional white collar criminals’: the ‘hustlers’ (30% of the sample) and the ‘well-to-doers’ (22% of the sample). One group is in line with the ‘white collar criminals as generalists’ hypothesis: these generalists were about 30% of the sample and have high levels of violent and property criminal antecedents and alcohol/substance use. Finally, the fourth group was unexpected given the two main hypotheses of this study: 16% of the sample includes female occupational offenders with high rates of heavy drug use. This last group is labeled ‘female drug users’.
The findings of this dissertation are of particular significance to the field of criminology because they advance our knowledge of one of the most understudied and socially deleterious forms of offending within the criminological cannon – white-collar crime. In addition, the results also suggest that “methodology matters” for theory testing. Specifically, regression models are good at detecting average differences between groups (e.g. white collar criminals vs. thieves), while cluster analysis can highlight the presence of sub-groups that would not be visible in a typical regression analysis. At the more theoretical level, this study indicates that white collar criminals are a very heterogeneous group of offenders, and that the general label may well be misleading. Some white collar criminals are indeed exceptional in comparison with thieves or other occupational offenders, but others are generalists for whom white collar criminality is part of a larger criminal history of violence, heavy alcohol and drug use, and other deviant activities.
Harel, Jordan, "Are White Collar Criminals Exceptional?" (2015). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 2947.