Labor Economist Pengpeng Xiao Joins Duke Faculty

Pengpeng Xiao headshot

Duke Economics is pleased to welcome Pengpeng Xiao to the department as an assistant research professor of Economics. Her hiring adds to Duke’s strong roster of experts on the gender dynamics of the labor market.

Originally from Shenzhen, China, Xiao only began to study economics late in her academic career. After completing her undergraduate degree at Vassar College, she worked as a research assistant at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. There, she attended economics seminars about kidney exchange mechanisms, matching in the marriage market, drug trafficking in Mexico and a wide range of other topics that she didn’t realize were part of the discipline.

“I was fascinated by the tools economists have at hand to answer so many different questions in the world,” said Xiao. “I was eager to learn more about those tools and about economics research, so I decided to go to graduate school.” She eventually earned her Ph.D. in economics from Yale University.

Xiao describes herself as a labor economist, and her research interests lie in gender gaps, education, the search and matching theory of beneficial relationships and family economics.

“In graduate school, we sometimes joked about the biological clock that women our age have to face, and that's when I got into gender-related questions and started wondering about potential conflicts between the biological clock and women's careers,” she said.

Now, Xiao studies the differences in how men and women behave in the labor market when they become parents, and how employers make hiring decisions and wage offers based on those behaviors. She has examined how women switch jobs after having children, costs to employers when women go on parental leave and the underlying reasons why women are paid less than men, shedding light on policies that aim to improve equality in society.

“It is important that everyone has a chance to fulfill his/her potential and pursue his/her happiness,” said Xiao. “Women have long overtaken men in education attainment in the U.S., and it might not be economically efficient to have over half of the educated population under-utilized or mismatched.”

Currently, Xiao is working on a project that deals with the Swedish parental leave system, focusing on why fathers are more reluctant to take leave, even after extensive reform. “Gender gaps at the workplace are very much tied to gender inequality in childcare burdens, so we are excited to find out what policies are necessary to improve equality in both the labor market and within the family,” said Xiao.

Coming from a year-long postdoc at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Xiao said she has long been familiar with Duke Economics. “I was impressed with the work that Duke faculty do, and was excited to find common research interests with many of them.”

She noted that the department has been incredibly inclusive and supportive even before she arrived in Durham, with many faculty members taking time to chat with her about various aspects of life at Duke.

“All these interactions made me feel very welcome and helped to smooth the transition from being a student to junior faculty,” said Xiao. “I look forward to more synergies and interactions with my colleagues when everything will be in-person!”