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Who Pays for White-Collar Crime?

50 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2016 Last revised: 10 Jun 2017

Paul M. Healy

Harvard Business School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

George Serafeim

Harvard University - Harvard Business School

Date Written: June 7, 2017


Using a proprietary dataset of 667 companies around the world that experienced white-collar crime we investigate why punishment severity, measured by the probability of dismissal and/or legal action, is significantly lower for more senior perpetrators. We argue that both agency and shareholder wealth considerations could explain this association. To discriminate between these explanations, we examine variation in the punishment of senior perpetrators controlling for the type and magnitude of the crime. We find that senior male perpetrators are treated more leniently than senior female perpetrators, and that senior perpetrators in organizations with widespread crime are punished less than those in organizations with isolated instances of crime. These results are more pronounced in organizations that do not report the crime to regulators, have weaker control systems, and operate in countries with more gender inequality. From these results, we conclude that agency considerations play an important role in influencing punishments of senior perpetrators of white-collar crime.

Keywords: white-collar crime, gender, fraud, penalties, corruption

JEL Classification: K41, K42, G34, M41, M51, J16

Suggested Citation

Healy, Paul M. and Serafeim, George, Who Pays for White-Collar Crime? (June 7, 2017). AAA 2017 Management Accounting Section (MAS) Meeting. Available at SSRN: or

Paul M. Healy

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-1283 (Phone)
617-496-7387 (Fax)

George Serafeim (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Business School ( email )

381 Morgan Hall
Boston, MA 02163
United States


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