Research

Working Paper
Chika O. Okafor. Working Paper. “All Things Equal: Social Networks as a Mechanism for Discrimination”. arXiv PreprintAbstract
I study labor markets in which firms can hire via job referrals. Despite full equality in the initial time period (e.g., equal ability, employment, wages, and network structure), unequal wages and employment still emerge over time between majority and minority workers, due to homophily—the well-documented tendency for people to associate more with others similar to themselves. This inequality can be mitigated by minority workers having more social ties or a “stronger-knit” network. Hence, this paper uncovers a direct mechanism for discriminatory outcomes that neither relies on past inequality nor on discriminatory motives (i.e., this form of discrimination is distinct from both dominant economic models of taste-based and statistical discrimination).  These findings introduce multiple policy implications, including disproving a primary justification for "colorblind" approaches---namely disproving the position that such approaches are inherently merit-enhancing.
socialnetworkdiscrimination.pdf
Chika O. Okafor. Working Paper. “Prosecutor Politics: The Impact of Election Cycles on Criminal Sentencing in the Era of Rising Incarceration”. arXiv PreprintAbstract

 

  • I investigate how political incentives affect the behavior of district attorneys (DAs). I develop a theoretical model that predicts DAs will increase sentencing intensity in an election period compared to the period prior. To empirically test this prediction, I compile one of the most comprehensive datasets to date on the political careers of all district attorneys in office during the steepest rise in incarceration in U.S. history (roughly 1986–2006). Using quasi-experimental methods, I find causal evidence that being in a DA election year increases total admissions per capita and total months sentenced per capita. I estimate that the election year effects on admissions are akin to moving 0.85 standard deviations along the distribution of DA behavior within state (e.g., going from the 50th to 80th percentile in sentencing intensity). I find evidence that election effects are larger (1) in the southern United States, (2) in Republican counties, and (3) when DA elections are contested—consistent with the perspective that political incentives matter. Though I find evidence that county-level pro-White racial bias is associated with lower election year effects on Black prisoners, this decline is offset by even higher baseline punitiveness for Black prisoners throughout the election cycle. I also find that district attorney election effects decline over the period 1986–2006, in tandem with U.S. public opinion softening regarding criminal punishment. Together, these findings suggest DA behavior may respond to voter preferences—including racial sentiment and preferences regarding the harshness of the court system.

 

prosecutorpolitics.pdf
2015
Chika O. Okafor. 2015. “Returning to Eden: Toward a Faith-Based Framing of the Environmental Movement.” Villanova Environmental Law Journal, 26, 215. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This article proposes a major shift in the messaging of the mainstream environmental movement. Instead of relying on logic, the mainstream movement must also cultivate passion. Instead of only appealing to the mind, it must also tap into the heart. Instead of “convincing” people, it must also learn to inspire them. By synthesizing concepts from various academic disciplines, including sociology, economics, history, and theology, this article argues that what inspires people is a moral imperative. The best way for the environmental movement to create the essential moral imperative is through religious justifications.