Difference Between Mob and Mafia

Mob vs Mafia

The difference between mob and mafia mainly comes from the ethnic background of these two groups of people. Now, if you have seen Godfather series of Hollywood movies, you probably know a lot about mafia. But if you haven’t, it refers to underground, organized criminal syndicate that has its origins in Sicily, Italy. There is another word mob that refers to criminal gangs involved in similar illegal activities. There are many similarities in the two terms and many believe them to be synonyms. However, the fact is that there are differences, and it is these differences that will be highlighted in this article.

What is Mafia?

There are many theories as for the origin of the word Mafia. In Arabic language, the word mafia means refuge. In 9th century, Sicily was occupied and ruled by Arabs. The natives were oppressed and, to escape the tyrannical rule, they sought refuge in the hills of the islands found in Sicily. It was not just Arabs but Normans, French, Spanish, Germans, Austrians, and Greeks who invaded Sicily at different times and these refugees created a sense of brotherhood and unification. The organizations formed were hierarchical in nature, and their dons were the heads of the families. They were the head of the mafias in a village or a small territory. Members of Mafia at all times have had to undergo several oaths beginning from code of silence, obedience to the boss, assistance, and vengeance. Mafia members are also advised to stay clear of authorities. Mafia is engaged in all sorts of illegal activities such as drug trafficking, arms, extortion, prostitution, and so on.

Mafia grew in influence and became very strong in the 19th and 20th centuries. It became a criminal society that was a syndicate in itself. They followed their own authority and had clashes with the administration. Joining mafia was like adopting a religion, and once one became a member of the Mafia, he could not retire and had to remain faithful in all circumstances. Those who have tried to turn informers have met very violent deaths at the hand of the Mafia.

Difference Between Mob and Mafia

FBI chart of American Mafia bosses across the country in 1963

The spread of mafia in US is because of immigration of some of the family members of Mafia to New York in the late 20th century. First to arrive in New York was Don Vito Cascio Ferro, but soon many others followed suit, when Mussolini in Italy led a crackdown on Mafia. There were lucrative opportunities for mafia in US and they expanded by recruiting local henchmen and other criminals. Many more Sicilians who were residing in New York joined the movement. Mafia in US ran extortion and protection racket but also indulged in bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling.

What is Mob?

Mob is a generic term applied to individuals engaged in criminal activities in an organized manner. While Mafia has traditionally meant criminals belonging to families of Sicily involved in unlawful activities, Mob has no such restriction and people of all hues, irrespective of their ethnicity are termed as mob. You must have heard terms like Irish mob, Russian mob, etc. You can say that Mafia is a mob. However, you cannot say a mob is Mafia. A mob does not have an organized structure that determines what everyone’s duty is. To get the title of the leader in a mob, you can kill the leader and get the power. Also, most of the times, mob leaders do not reveal their identity. They lead a secretive life so that they can carry out the illegal businesses without a problem.

 Mob vs Mafia

The Detroit Purple Gang

What is the difference between Mob and Mafia?

• Mafia has traditionally meant criminals belonging to families of Sicily involved in unlawful activities. Nowadays, this also refers to crime rings operating from Italy and US. Mob has no such restriction and people of all hues, irrespective of their ethnicity are termed as mob.

• Mafia is a mob, but you cannot say mob is Mafia.

• Another difference lies in the way Mafia is structured. Mafia always has a hierarchical structure and the head is often the eldest member of the family who is also referred to as Don. Members rise from rank and file upon their performance and also their closeness to those who matter in Mafia.

• On the other hand, mob does not have a hierarchical structure, and there is no allegiance to a single family.

• Leadership can change with assassination in mob at any point of time. However, in Mafia, even assassination of the Don simply means passage of authority to the next in the hierarchy.

• Mob is rather more shrouded in mystery whereas one is at least sure of power centers in a mafia.

• One more difference between mafia and Mob pertains to the secrecy maintained by mob leaders. Whereas mob leaders avoid all contacts with the authority and lead an anonymous life, the Dons of mafia families are known entities, and they somehow seem to avoid brush with authorities. They are, nevertheless, visible unlike leaders of mobs.


Images Courtesy: FBI chart of American Mafia bosses across the country in 1963 and The Detroit Purple Gang via Wikicommons (Public Domain)