White Collar Crime The Influences of the Social Class

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When it comes to talk about crime, a lot of people will relate to the street crimes including burglary, robbery, and assault. However, more and more people complain that an increasing number of white-collar crimes exits in our society nowadays, such as false advertising, tax evasion, and insider stock trading. Write-collar crimes are very complicated issues which "can harm victims both directly and indirectly without the victims even knowing it" (Benson 3). It affects individuals, all levels of government, and all sectors of society, and brings about a considerate impact on the problems and concerns, and fears of the country.

According to the sociological textbook Sociology: The Points of the Compass, this paper will use the sociology viewpoint which is from Chapter 5 to analyze how the white-collar crimes influence of the social class. The first section of the paper provides an overview on the concept of white-collar crimes. In the second section we will look at the severity of the white-collar crimes. Finally, we will analyze the social characteristics of white-collar offenders.

The definition of white-collar crime

The term of white-collar crime is original introduced by Professor Edwin H. Sutherland of Indiana University in 1939, which is "crimes committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation." (Rosoff 2) Sutherland also defines two important facts of the white-collar crime. First, he points out that the white-collar offenders are in the upper social status and more powerful (Rosoff 2). Second, he refers the fact that "the justice system is inclined to employ a very different procedural apparatus for dealing with white-collar offenders" (Rosoff 3).

Persons who violate laws regarding restraint of trade, advertising, pure food and drugs, and similar practices are not arrested by uniformed policemen, are not tried in criminal courts, and are not committed to prisons; this illegal behavior receives the attention of administrative commissions and of courts operating under civil or equity jurisdiction. (Rosoff 3)

White-collar crime is also called commercial crimes committed by "people exclusively for personal gain" (Hackler 231). Herbert Edelhertz is official at the U.S. Department of Justice in 1970, who points out an offense-based of white-collar crime theory (Benson 7). He defines white-collar crime is "an illegal act or series of illegal acts committed by non-physical means and by concealment or guile to obtain money or property, to avoid the payment or loss of money or property, or to obtain business or personal advantage" (Benson 7).

However, more and more criminologists argue with the Edelhertz's offense-based approach, in which an increasing number of white-collar crimes also physically harms and violences on their victims, like "both the manufacture of dangerous products and the maintenance of unsafe working environments are important types of white-collar-crime" (Benson 13).

The Severity of the White-Collar Crime

Actually, the white-collar crimes have caused much more serious results and damaged more of our society than any other kind of crimes. "Even in societies that celebrate the importance of the individual, the power of authority can be surprisingly strong" (Wicks 42). The white-collar criminals have more authorization to access cooperation's asserts or government's confidential documentation; They build their plan precisely and accurately; They can operate their crime process for a long time because of very hard to be discovered. Therefore, a huge loss and harm have been made, when the police stop their crime eventually in most cases of white-collar crime.

Louis R. Mizell, Jr., a former Special Agent and Intelligence Officer with the U.S. Department of State, he refers white-collar criminals exists anywhere in peoples' life (Mizell). Consider the following studies:

Every year an average of $160 million is stolen or embezzled from schools and colleges all over the country.

Insurance fraud - property, casualty, and health - is a $95 billion-a-year scam

Credit card fraud costs taxpayers nearly $3 billion per year.

Dishonest lawyers pocket more than $14 billion annually

More than $21 billion is being stolen from charities each year.

Source from: (Mizell)

These survey data shows us the fact that the white-collar crimes cost more serious than the street crime.

White-collar crime results in few prosecutions and still fewer convictions for two main reasons. First, much white-collar crime takes place in private and is therefore difficult to detect. Second, corporations can afford legal experts, public relations firms, and advertising agencies that advise their clients on how to bend laws, build up their corporate image in the public mind, and influence lawmakers to pass laws without teeth. Moreover, even when prosecutions are successful, the punishment is usually light. (Brym 138)

Furthermore, there are many indirect aspects resulted by white-collar crime in our society which widely cause more damages than the direct impacts. Many white-collar criminals work in backbone enterprises of a country and hold an important position in it, the criminal activities they acted not only hurt their employers, but also created a lot of harm for millions customers using their services. In some cases, it will affect the reputation of the country or cause the international conflict because of their actions.

The victim's families also are hurt made by those white-collar criminals. Sometimes, this harm is even more virtual than the direct victims themselves, for example, victim's children grow up in the shadow of the harm against their family by criminals, they will have more resentment and negative emotions to the society when they gown up. They maybe because next criminal when those resentment explored one day.

The public will loss the confidence to the government if the white-collar crime keeps increasing. People always believe it the government's responsibility to maintain the low crime rate in the society especially the white-collar crime which crime is made by the best class of citizens in the society.

The Social Characteristics of White-Collar Offenders

"Social status is a relative term in the sense that people can be ranked as having more or less of it, depending on their income, education, and occupation." (Benson 164). Sutherland focus on "persons of the upper socioeconomic classes", and "respectability and social status" (Benson 163). Most of the white-collar offenders are in the high social status, which have high level education, high occupation, and high income. "

In the Yale study, they summarize the main conclusions about the white-collar offenders. First, the typical white-collar offender is a middle-aged white male: 85.5% are more likely to be white, the average age of 40, and 85.5% are male (Benson 31). Second, on average white-collar offenders are better educated and more likely to be employed than common criminals: 79.3% are high school graduates, 27.1% are college graduates and 58.4$ are steadily employed (Benson 31).

"White-collar crime is committed disproportionately by people from middle and upper classes" (Brym 138). The social class conflicts also reflect to the white-collar crimes: the abuse of power. The Marxian's conflict theory "tends to construe every social conflict and every measure of social power as an expression, device, or function of economic struggle" (Silverman 173). It indicates white-collar offenders abuse their power and uses their social status "advantages" to harm victims. Actually they do more harm, cost more money, and ruins more lives than assaults, thefts, and rape (Hackler 231).

The upper class offenders exists widespread of institutions, "including business, government, the medical profession, even religious organizations"; and they role the "remarkably diverse set of actors", like "captains of industry, politicians, doctors, cops, and computer hackers" (Rosoff 19).


In Chapter 5 of the Sociology: The Points of the Compass summaries that knowledge and high position in society can't guarantee person keep away from white-collar crimes. The more capability the person has the more damage he/she made when this capability is used in commercial criminality. So, it is very important for teaching the public not only just the skills and knowledge which will find a job in future, but also teaching them what is the correct morality and values in society.