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In stating their theory of white-collar crime, Gottfredson and Hirschi argue the following points:36
• White-collar crime, like all crime in their view, will vary across social settings, and will be relatively low, depending on the selection criteria for admittance into the organizational setting. They state they are not bothered by issues of organizational or peer support for white-collar crime activities, since they contend that all crime is contrary to societal and organizational norms and interests and, therefore, has to take place in an environment of isolation.
• Their theory holds that those committing crimes will tend to have similar tendencies, regardless of the type of crime being committed. Accordingly, they contend that the difference between crime in the streets and crime in the suites is a distinction of offense type and not offender type.
• Their theory is one of crime in general and, if valid, should hold up under empirical testing regardless of the type of crime being committed.
Gottfredson and Hirschi have put forth a sweeping, and in some respects, controversial theory, at least insofar as it deals with white-collar crime in general and occupational fraud in particular. We shall consider some of the implications of and support for their theory in following discussions. First, however, it may be worthwhile to consider some of the response generated in the academic and theoretical communities to their formulation.
In 1989, Darrell Steffensmeier contributed a piece to the journal Criminology entitled: “On the Causes of ‘White-Collar’ Crime: An Assessment of Hirschi and Gottfredson’s Claims.” We should note that this response, in 1989, was a year in advance of their book, but in reaction to an article they had published in the same journal in 1987, entitled “Causes of White-Collar Crime.” The article contained many of the elements of their theory later incorporated into their book. In his response, Steffensmeier countered their theory on three primary points:37
1. They misread the Uniform Crime Reports data from the FBI by inferring that the crimes of fraud, forgery, and embezzlement are reasonable indicators
of white-collar crime. Steffensmeier takes the position that this is not, in fact, the case, because these offenses are not good general indicators of white-collar crime, much less occupational fraud.
2. The demographic distributions presented or inferred by Gottfredson and Hirschi (i.e., sex, age, and race) for these three offense types are not the same as crime in general, whether one accepts the position that fraud, embezzlement, and forgery are legitimate representative white-collar crime offense types or not.
3. Gottfredson and Hirschi are incorrect in their assessment of the fact that these white-collar crime offenses are relatively rare. Steffensmeier sees them as being at least as common as other types of offenses reflected in commonly available data.
In pursuing this final point, Steffensmeier notes that many of the offenses recorded in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report data are for acts such as bad checks, credit card fraud, theft of services, falsification of identification, defrauding an innkeeper, small-time confidence games, and the like. Accordingly, he does not find them representative of white-collar crime in any meaningful sense. He believes Gottfredson and Hirschi erred in choosing such white-collar crimes that were actually close in many important aspects to typical street crimes.38
Steffensmeier also takes issue with the age characteristics Gottfredson and Hirschi apply to their formulation of criminal causality and the impact age has on it, at least insofar as white-collar offenses are concerned. We may recall that the general theory postulates that white-collar offenders mimic offenders in general offense categories, by peaking in their late teens and early twenties, then dropping off sharply thereafter. Steffensmeier presents an analysis of 1985 Uniform Crime Reports data in which he finds that the age curve for fraud offenders is both flatter and older than that for those committing general crimes such as larceny, burglary, and robbery. For example, he presents data that he contends shows that the peak age for fraud offenses is 24, the median age is 30, and it is not until age 41 that the offense rate is less than 50 percent of what it was at the peak offense period. By contrast, he argues, the peak age for burglary offenses is 16, the median point is 17.5 years of age, and these offenses drop below 50 percent of their peak occurrence frequency at age 20. Thus, he argues, white-collar crimes present a different profile than the general crimes Gottfredson and Hirschi believe are highly similar, if not identical.39
Without going into great detail regarding his arguments, Steffensmeier also contends that Gottfredson and Hirschi’s position that white-collar crimes are relatively rare is also wrong. He notes that there are subtle but significant definitional distinctions, and he also raises questions about whether occurrence rates of white-collar crime are contrasted to the general population, only some of whom have the opportunity to even commit a white-collar crime, or the population of