Janet Yellen

Women in STEM
Janet Yellen

Birth: August 13, 1946

Specialty: Economics

Major Contributions:

Chair of President’s Council on Economic Advisers

First woman chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve

First person to lead the three most powerful economic bodies in US Government

Image: Wikimedia

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 1990s, 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 the current uncertain environment.  Time Magazine called it a “kitchen-table approach” to economics, and Yellen says that the Fed is “focused on Main Street” when she started the second half of her term, which ended in January, 2018. For two years she was part of a think tank but came back to public service in 2021 when she was appointed as the 78th United States Secretary of the Treasury with her again being the first woman to fill the role. In fact, it also made her the first person in American history to lead the three most powerful economic bodies in the nation’s federal government.

Written by Mary Ratliff


Wikipedia: Janet Yellen

Washington Post: New Fed chief Janet Yellen lets a long career of breaking barriers speak for itself

Nobel Prizes: George A. Akerlof – Biographical

Brown Magazine: Banker to the Nation

Exclusive: Janet Yellen Talks Transforming the Fed

NYT: Yellen’s Path to the Pinnacle

See Also:

Federal Reserve History: Janet L. Yellen

A Locked Door, A Secret Meeting And The Birth Of The Fed (Planet Money)

After Overcoming Early Obstacles, Yellen Assumes Fed’s Top Job (All Things Considered)

Wikipedia: Keynesian Economics

The Outlook, Uncertainty, and Monetary Policy (Speech by Yellen, March 29, 2016)