While she wasn’t initially interested in economics, Janet Yellen has become a renowned expert in the field and also the first woman to become chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Yellen attended Pembroke College, part of Brown University. She had initially thought to pursue philosophy but her economics courses captured her attention. In 1997 she gave an interview saying that her professors taught her “that economics was a subject where a systematic way of thinking about the world translated into policy prescriptions with real social impact.” She completed her degree in 1967.
During her doctoral studies at Yale University, she was also the only woman in her 1971 graduating class of 24 students. Yellen then began as an assistant professor at Harvard. After being passed over for tenure in 1977, she took a job with the Federal Reserve, where she met George Akerlof in the cafeteria. The two were married within a year, and they wrote many papers together, focusing partially on poverty and policy issues.
In the 90’s, Yellen served in several government positions, including as a member of the Federal Reserve System’s board of governors and Chair of Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. She was the President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 2004 until 2010 where she was one of the first officials to warn of the housing bubble, and though she initially believed the problem could be self-correcting, in 2007 she said it had begun to threaten the nation’s economy. In 2008 she was the first Fed official to state the U.S. was in a recession.
In 2010, she was appointed as vice-chair of the Fed, and in 2014 she became the first woman to lead America’s central bank. Yellen has said she favors “risk-management” in our current uncertain environment. Time Magazine recently called it a “kitchen-table approach” to economics, and Yellen says that the Fed is “focused on Main Street” as she starts the second half of her term, which will end in January, 2018.
Written by Mary Ratliff