Crime not only pays, it pays relatively well—about $900 per week. So say researchers who compared past surveys of nonviolent, low-level criminals to come up with the best guess on their illegal earnings. Such a figure isn't easy to reach since criminals aren't keen to report illegal profits. They also aren't particularly reliable or trustworthy, which means surveys are problematic. In the two surveys compared for this Criminology study, however, respondents were asked to estimate earnings twice using different measures of time (days, weeks, or months), helping to weed out faulty or exaggerated answers. "I was pretty surprised at how consistent the findings were across the two datasets," researcher Holly Nguyen of Penn State University tells Quartz.
Both surveys were made up primarily of black and Hispanic respondents, mostly males and around half of whom never finished high school. The first from 2010 involved 368 respondents convicted of a felony between the ages of 14 and 17, with average earnings of $1,470 a week through crimes like theft and selling drugs, per Journalist's Resource. The second from 1980 included 1,189 respondents with a history of employment problems, with average illegal earnings of $914 a week. The $900-per-week figure—more than double the average made legally by high school dropouts, per Quartz—was reached after very high and very low amounts were omitted. Nguyen says she's "cautiously optimistic" that the figure will prove a "reliable tool for future study." (Read more crime stories.)