Gayle installed as John H. Biggs Distinguished Professor in Economics

On May 17, colleagues, family, and friends gathered in Holmes Lounge on the Danforth Campus to celebrate the installation of George-Levi Gayle, professor of economics, as the John H. Biggs Distinguished Professor in Economics.

Chancellor Andrew D. Martin and Dean Feng Sheng Hu provided remarks at the ceremony, and chair and professor of economics Gaetano Antinolfi introduced Gayle. After the medallion presentation, Gayle discussed his research in a lecture titled “The Distance Traveled: From Data to Policy.”


About George-Levi Gayle

George-Levi Gayle, the John H. Biggs Distinguished Professor in Economics at Washington University in St. Louis, investigates topics in the field of labor economics. Gayle joined the WashU Department of Economics in 2012, where his body of work has focused on three main areas: family and gender issues in labor, the effect of information friction on earnings and compensation, and the estimation of semi-parametric models. He will assume the role of chair of the Department of Economics in July 2023.

His recent research examines discrimination and gender gaps in labor market outcomes; the link between fertility, labor supply, and parental time investment in children; intergenerational persistence in education and earnings; and the estimation of dynamic general equilibrium models of labor markets with incomplete information. Previously, from 2003 to 2012, he was an associate professor of economics and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

Gayle is a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and a research fellow at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, where he was previously a staff economist. Since 2013, he has also been a member of the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group at the University of Chicago’s Center for the Economics of Human Development. Recently, the National Science Foundation awarded Gayle a $500,000 grant to study the optimal design of parental leave policies in the presence of statistical discrimination and child development.

Gayle’s research has been published in top economics, accounting, and finance journals, including the American Economic Review, the Journal of Political Economy, Econometrica, the Review of Economics Studies, and the Journal of Accounting Research. He is also an associate editor of the International Economic Review and the Quarterly Journal of Finance and Accounting. His insights have been featured in the popular press, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, U.S. News and World Report, The Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and the Philadelphia Business Journal.

His awards and honors include the Richard Thorn Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching (2000), the Andrew Mellon Research Fellowship (2001), the Rueben Slesinger Research Paper Award (2001), and the Richard M. Cyert Undergraduate Economics Teaching Award (2006).

Gayle received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of the West Indies-Mona in 1996 and 1998, respectively. He earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Pittsburgh in 2004.


About John H. Biggs and Penelope Parkman Biggs

John H. Biggs, PhD ’83, and his late wife, Penelope Parkman Biggs, MA ’68, PhD ’74, shared a lifelong relationship with Washington University. They have passionately supported the Departments of Classics and Economics, while John also significantly contributed to the university’s financial management during his service as vice chancellor for administration and finance.

John Biggs graduated from Harvard in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in both classics and mathematics. He then returned to his hometown of St. Louis and joined the General American Life Insurance Co., where he started his study of actuarial science. He quickly rose through the ranks to become chief financial officer.

In 1977, he received an offer from then-Chancellor William H. Danforth to serve as Washington University’s vice chancellor for administration and finance. He served in the role until 1985, leading significant financial and investment improvements that reflected his background in insurance and innovative mathematical structures.

While at Washington University, John was elected to the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) board, and as a trustee, he made substantial contributions to their financial products. He was also a member of the primary economic research institution in America, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and later served a term as its chairman.

In 1985, John joined Centerre Trust Company as its CEO. John and Penelope then moved to New York City when John became president of TIAA, and later, its chair. He added a number of innovative new products and services during his 13-year tenure at TIAA and led a robust effort to improve corporate governance, in particular encouraging board opportunities for women and people of color.

John spent the next 15 years at New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he led a new unit for research in the regulation of insurance companies and taught undergraduate and MBA courses on the insurance industry, pension plans, investments, and corporate governance.

Throughout his career, John sustained close ties with Washington University. While serving as vice chancellor, he earned a doctorate in economics and received an honorary doctor of humane letters. He is a member of the Arts & Sciences National Council, an honorary member of the New York Regional Cabinet, and the founding chair of the Washington University Investment Management Company. In addition to his service to WashU, John served on the boards of Boeing, JPMorgan, and Ralston Purina.

Penelope Parkman Biggs graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in classics from Harvard. She earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in comparative literature from Washington University in 1968 and 1974, respectively, and took many courses in classics. Penelope taught Latin at Mary Institute (now MICDS) and classics and English literature as a member of the faculty of Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. She also published articles in scholarly journals on classical and post-classical literature, which are still cited today.

When John and Penelope moved to New York, Penelope retired from teaching and enjoyed a wonderful 40-year retirement focused on theater, museums, and opera; a reading group with former Harvard classmates; travel; and regular visits to St. Louis and Washington University, where her son Henry served as an associate dean in Arts & Sciences. A doting grandmother to four wonderful grandchildren, Penelope passed away on November 3, 2022.

In 2002, John and Penelope committed to establishing the John and Penelope Biggs Distinguished Professorship in Classics and the John H. Biggs Distinguished Professorship in Economics. In honor and memory of Penelope, John recently created the Penelope Biggs Scholarship and Fellowship and the Penelope Biggs Travel Award. These transformational gifts will directly support undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Classics as well as fund travel experiences for students and faculty who are interested in ancient classical history.