Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

John K. Cochran

Co-Major Professor

Michael J. Lynch


Awareness, Perceived seriousness, Punitiveness, White-collar crime


A growing body of research has revealed that the financial cost and physical harmfulness of elite deviance overshadow the impact of street crime on society (Knowlton et al., 2011; Landrigan et al., 2002; Leigh, 2011; Lynch & Michalowski, 2006; Herbert & Landrigan, 2000; Rebovich & Jiandani, 2000; Reiman & Leighton, 2010). However, despite such discrepancies, crimes of the poor continue to outshine white-collar offenses in the news media (Barak, 1994; Barlow & Barlow, 2010; Ericson et al., 1991; Lynch & Michalowski, 2006; Lynch, Nalla & Miller, 1989; Lynch, Stretesky & Hammond, 2000), the criminal justice system (Calavita, Tillman, & Pontell, 1997; Maddan et al., 2011; Payne, Dabney, & Ekhomu, 2011; Tillman & Pontell, 1992) and even academia (Lynch, McGurrin & Fenwick, 2004; McGurrin, Jarrell, Jahn & Cochrane, 2013).

Surprisingly, scholarly efforts that have investigated societal response to crimes of the powerful have limited their field of inquiry to public opinions about white-collar crime (e.g., Huff, Desilets, & Kane, 2010; Kane & Wall, 2006; Rebovich et al., 2000; Schoepfer, Carmichael & Piquero, 2007, etc.). While these studies have provided valuable empirical evidence of a growing concern among Americans regarding the danger posed by elite offenses, their failure to include a valid measure of lay knowledge about white-collar crime significantly limits our ability to infer the extent to which the public is familiar with the scope and magnitude of this social issue.

The present study seeks to address such limitation by providing the first measure of public knowledge about elite deviance. Four hundred and eight participants completed an online questionnaire that comprised measures of respondents' knowledge and sentiments (i.e., perceived seriousness and punitiveness) about white-collar crime. Results of statistical analyses revealed that participants were not sufficiently informed about elite deviance and suggest the existence of popular "myths" about white-collar crime; more specifically, a substantial number of subjects were not inclined to acknowledge hard-earned empirical evidence such as the greater physical harmfulness of elite deviance over street crime and to recognize that some elite offenses - which they admit are common in underdeveloped nations (e.g., human trafficking) - can be committed in the United States with little to no legal repercussion for the perpetrators. Further, less knowledgeable subjects and "myth" adherers (including men, those with higher income levels, more politically conservative subjects, Republicans, conservative Protestants, and those who believed that white-collar offenders see no wrong in their actions) were often more lenient in their attitudes towards elite deviance, both in terms of perceived seriousness and punitiveness, compared with street crime. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are thoroughly discussed.