This page details some of my recent and ongoing research. Please see my CV for additional information about past publications and other work in progress. Please also feel free to contact me with any questions about my work!

Crime and punishment

Alexander F. Roehrkasse and Christopher Wildeman. 2022. "Lifetime Risk of Imprisonment in the United States Remains High and Starkly Unequal." Science Advances. Replication package.

How likely are U.S. males and females of different ethnoracial groups to be imprisoned over the course of their lives, and how have these risks changed in recent decades? Using survey and administrative data, we update 20th-century estimates of the cumulative risk of imprisonment for the 21st century. In 2016, non-Hispanic Black males’ lifetime risk of imprisonment remained very high—more than 16%—but decreased substantially relative to extreme levels of risk in the 1990s and early 2000s. The lifetime risk of imprisonment among people identifying as American Indian or Alaska Native was nearly 50% for males and more than 14% for females. Although national prison admission rates are declining, imprisonment remains a pervasive and highly unequal life-course experience.

Christopher Muller and Alexander F. Roehrkasse. 2022. "Racial and Class Inequality in U.S. Incarceration in the Early Twenty-First Century." Social Forces.

The relative importance of racial and class inequality in incarceration in the United States has recently become the subject of much debate. In this paper, we seek to give this debate a stronger empirical foundation. First, we update previous research on racial and class inequality in people’s likelihood of being imprisoned. Then we examine racial and class inequality in people’s risk of having a family member imprisoned or living in a high-imprisonment neighborhood. We find that racial inequality in prison admissions has fallen in the twenty-first century, while class inequality has surged. However, in recent years, Black people with high levels of education and income were more likely than White people with low levels of education and income to experience the imprisonment of a family member or to live in a neighborhood with a high imprisonment rate. These seemingly contradictory conclusions can be reconciled by the fact that class boundaries among Black people are more permeable than they are among White people. Imprisonment in the United States is increasingly reserved for the poor. But because Black people are disproportionately connected to the poor through their families and neighborhoods, racial inequality exceeds class inequality in people’s indirect experiences with imprisonment.

Alexander F. Roehrkasse. 2021. "Inequality in Life Lost to Violence in the United States." SocArXiv. September 18. doi:10.31235/ Replication package.

This study uses demographic methods to describe ethnoracial and educational inequality in the cumulative risk of homicide death and life lost to violence in the United States. If age-specific homicides rates were to continue at 2018–2019 levels, more than 1 in 19 Black males without a high school diploma would die by homicide. In contrast, 1 in 152 White males without a high school diploma and 1 in 233 Black males with a bachelor's degree would be violently killed. Among Black males without a high school diploma, homicide led to a decrease in life expectancy at ages 15–19 of more than two years. The impact of U.S. violence on the life expectancy of socially marginalized people exceeds the population impact of all causes of death except heart disease and cancer.

Child welfare

Alexander F. Roehrkasse. 2021. "Race, Poverty, and Children's Exposure to Neighborhood Incarceration." Socius.

Recent research has documented negative associations between children's welfare and mobility and their exposure to neighborhood incarceration. But inequality in such exposure among children in the United States is poorly understood. This study links tract-level census data to administrative data on prison admissions to measure 37.8 million children's exposure to neighborhood incarceration in 2008, by race/ethnicity and poverty status. The average poor Black or African American child lived in a neighborhood where 1 in 174 working-age adults was admitted to prison annually, more than twice the rate of neighborhood prison admission experienced by the average U.S. child. Residential segregation and the spatial concentration of incarceration combine to create significant ethnoracial and economic inequality in the neighborhood experiences of U.S. children.

Alexander F. Roehrkasse. 2021. "Long-Term Trends and Ethnoracial Inequality in U.S. Foster Care: A Research Note." Demography.

This study combines and standardizes multiple sources of administrative data to calculate rates of children in foster care in the United States from 1961 to 2018, more than tripling the length of previously available time series. Results yield novel insights about historical, geographic, and ethnoracial variation in children's experience of living without parents under state supervision. National rates of children in foster care rose from 3 per 1,000 in 1963 to a peak of almost 8 per 1,000 in 1997 before declining to just under 6 per 1,000 in 2018. After stable or increasing racial inequality in the late-twentieth century, disparities between Black/African American and White children began to decrease in the twenty-first century in nearly every state, closing entirely in several Southern states but remaining wide outside the South. In many Midwestern and Western states, the extreme over-representation of American Indian/Alaska Native children in foster care persisted or intensified.

Family law and gender inequality

Alexander F. Roehrkasse. "Women's Property Rights and Divorce: Independence or Deinstitutionalization?"

Standard sociological and economic theories of marriage hypothesize that wives' economic autonomy from husbands increases rates of marital dissolution by decreasing the financial costs of divorce for women. This model has been widely used to explain the historical growth of divorce in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This study reassesses such explanations by exploiting a natural experiment: the expansion of women's property rights in the United States between the Civil War and the Great Depression. Using novel administrative data measuring divorce among marriage cohorts, a comparison of results from differences-in-differences and regression discontinuity designs reveals that prior research has mismeasured the causal mechanism linking women's property rights and marital dissolution. Although divorce rates accelerated following rights reforms, increases were shared equally among those whose marriages were and were not legally affected, ruling out explanations based on the effect of financial transfers from husbands to wives. The influence of wives' property rights gains on marital dissolution is better understood as a cultural spillover effect that was part of the broader deinstitutionalization of patriarchal marriage.