Markoff received a BA from Columbia College in 1962 and a PhD from Johns Hopkins in 1972. Prior to taking a position at University of Pittsburgh in 1972, Markoff taught at the City College of New York. He has also done research at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Sevilla, Spain.
He has published extensively in sociological, historical and political science journals. He states that his research "concerns the history of democratization, considered as a multi-continental process across several centuries".