Study: Crime Doesn't Pay (Well)

A recent study found that crime pays -- but not very well.

June 25, 2012 — -- Note to the unemployed: Bank robbery is not a lucrative gig.

This may come as a somewhat of a surprise. Bank robbers always seem to do so well after a major heist, at least in the movies. But a recent study in Significance, the journal of Britain's Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association, found that, despite the perceived glamour, you might make more money as, say, a dental hygienist.

Indeed, as the authors -- economists in England who had access to data from the British Bankers' Association and the FBI -- concluded in their veddy British way: "The return on an average bank robbery is, frankly, rubbish."

Here's why:

Based on 2006 data, the average take-home from a U.S. bank robbery was a paltry $4,330.

The number was £20,331 in the U.K. -- about $40,000 based on the exchange rates that year. One third of these were foiled, which means the robbers took home nothing at all. That puts the average haul per successful robbery at £30,000 -- about $46,729.

But since about 20 percent of perpetrators in both countries are caught and the money often recovered, the average is usually much less.

Clearly, there are ways a robber can up his ante. On average, gun-toting robbers waltzed away with £10,301 ($16,045) more than unarmed ones. On the other hand, that might not be so smart, because the penalties are greater for armed robbery.

Operating in a team is another option: It increases the take by £9,033 ($14,070), on average, in large part because gangs tend to be more organized and professional (See "Point Break" or "Inside Man" for more on this). But although the total haul goes up with a team, the per-person take-home goes down to a mere £12,706.60 ($19,792).

Thus, "A single bank raid, even a successful one, is not going to keep our would-be robber in a life of luxury," the authors noted.

Even if a robber does make a full-blown career out of his wayward habit, he's still not going to be able to retire to Majorca anytime soon. The average U.K. wage for full-time employment is around £26,000 ($40,498), so the most a robber can expect is a six-month reprieve. He can, of course, always rob more banks, but that increases his chances of getting caught.

"After four raids, he is more likely than not to be inside [jail]," the authors wrote.

Would-be robbers, they noted, seem to have learned such lessons. Bank robberies and attempted robberies are on the decline, both in the U.K. and the U.S.

According to FBI statistics, there were 5,014 U.S. bank robberies in 2011, down from 6,700 in 2008.

The moral of the story?

"Successful criminals study econometrics," they authors write. "Statistics can help in all walks of life."

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