Christopher Uggen and Melissa Thompson. 2003. "The Socioeconomic Determinants of Ill-Gotten Gains: Within-Person Changes in Drug Use and Illegal Earnings." American Journal of Sociology 109:146-85.




Although criminals experience varying degrees of socioeconomic success, sociological research on attainment has rarely considered illegal activities. Generalizing from the sociology of earnings attainment, we develop a conceptual model of social embeddedness in conventional and criminal activities to explain illegal earnings among criminal offenders. We analyze unique monthly earnings data from the National Supported Work Demonstration Project, a large-scale social program that provided employment to released offenders, drug addicts, and youth dropouts in the 1970s. To isolate the effects of time-varying indicators such as legal earnings, drug use, and criminal opportunities, we estimate fixed effects models predicting month-to-month changes in illegal earnings. Our results show that criminal earnings are highly sensitive to embeddedness in conforming work and family relationships, criminal experience, and the perceived risks and rewards of crime. Moreover, heroin and cocaine use creates a strong earnings imperative that is difficult to satisfy in the conventional low-wage labor market, and offenders earn far more money illegally when they are using these drugs than during periods of abstinence.