When crime pays: Capital, competence, and criminal success

Bill McCarthy*, John L Hagan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

145 Scopus citations


Several theoretical traditions offer insights into individual success in conventional activities. We extend this work, suggesting that explanations of success also apply to crime: although prosperity in licit or illicit activities has several unique antecedents, success in either endeavor is influenced by common faactors. Most research on conventional success focuses on the effects of human and social capital, and criminal forms of these are important for illegal success. We argue that various aspects of conventional personal capital - a heightened desire for wealth, a propensity for risk-taking, a willingness to cooperate and competence - also play important roles in both legal and illegal prosperity. We demonstrate the importance of various types of capital, particularly the salience of personal capital, with data on drug-selling income.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1035-1060
Number of pages26
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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