New research by Dr Giovanni Mastrobuoni of the University of Essex uses declassified data on 800 Mafia members to conduct the first empirical analysis of the famous network, thus providing a potentially important tool in the fight against organised crime.

His study, published in the August 2015 issue of the Economic Journal, uses the data to study the importance of criminal connections, linking the network position of Mafia members to an economic measure of their success – namely the value of the house or apartment where they were presumed to reside.

Until now, the illicit nature of organised crime networks has precluded empirical analysis. It is widely agreed among historians, criminologists and anthropologists that connections are the building blocks of secret societies and organised crime groups; but without data on these connections, it has been impossible to investigate these claims.

The new study shows that the empirical analysis of networks helps to understand the workings of such a secret society and the importance of criminal connections – something of huge potential benefit to those looking to curtail their effectiveness.


Dr Mastrobuoni explains his approach:

”To set about minimising the overall criminal effect of an organisation such as the Mafia, we must understand what makes some members more important than others.”

”In an organisation like the Mafia, one member”s exploitation of his connections, be they inherited or otherwise, will increase his importance within that network. He is then likely to become wealthy via the high density of criminal activity around him. This wealth can be displayed in the property where he resides.”

”As a law enforcer with maybe one chance at an arrest, you need to be as sure as you can be that the arrest you”re about to make will have maximum impact and will remove a key player within that organisation.”

”We have used economic status to work out how much of a key player each member is. Mobsters who are more central in the criminal network are found to live in more expensive housing – an exception being the bosses of Mafia families who tend to keep a lower profile by officially residing in more humble housing.”

In 1961, the newly appointed US Attorney General, Robert F Kennedy, waged his first concentrated attack on the American Mafia. The 800 members featured in this study were active just before this crackdown.

The records are based on an exact facsimile of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics” secret files on American Mafia members in 1960 and contain information collected from federal agents on the gangsters” closest criminal associates.

In January 2011, exactly 50 years on, nearly 125 people were arrested on federal charges, leading to what federal officials called the ”largest mob roundup in FBI history”. In those 50 years, the Mafia had continued to follow the same rules and to be active in many countries.


”The Value of Connections: Evidence from the Italian-American Mafia” by Giovanni Mastrobuoni is published in the August 2015 issue of the Economic Journal. Giovanni Mastrobuoni is at the University of Essex.

Giovanni Mastrobuoni