Janet Yellen

Janet Yellen Biography

Government Official, Economist(1946–)
American economist Janet Yellen became the first female chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board of Governors with her confirmation to the post in 2014.

Who Is Janet Yellen?

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1946, Janet Yellen earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Brown University in 1967 and a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1971. After spending much of her early career in academia, she served on the White House Council of Economic Advisers from 1997 to 1999, and in 2004 she became president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Yellen was selected to serve as vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in 2010, and in 2014 she became the first woman to serve as its chair. Despite her role in helping to shrink the national unemployment rate, Yellen announced her resignation in November 2017, after President Donald Trump revealed he would not nominate her for a second term.

Early Life and Education

Economist and Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Louise Yellen was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 13, 1946. She has become a leading figure in U.S. monetary policy through her many roles at the Federal Reserve, and was named Federal Reserve Chair in 2014. She attended Fort Hamilton High School, where she excelled in many subjects. She also served as editor-in-chief of her school newspaper and became valedictorian of her graduating class in 1963.

Yellen went on to Brown University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in economics in 1967, before enrolling at Yale University for her doctorate. After completing her Ph.D. in 1971, she spent several years as an assistant professor at Harvard University.

Educator and Economist

Yellen held her first post with the Federal Reserve in the late 1970s, serving as an economist there for a year before returning to academia. From 1978 to 1980, she lived abroad, becoming a lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She then joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley.

Yellen took leave from UC Berkeley in the mid-1990s to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. From 1997 to 1999, she also served on the White House Council of Economic Advisers for President Bill Clinton.

In 2004, Yellen became president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, showing remarkable insight into the country's economic situation as one of the few economists to forecast the housing crisis of 2008. In 2010, she became vice chair of the Federal Reserve. Yellen has been an outspoken advocate for using the powers of the Federal Reserve to reduce unemployment, and has seemed more willing than other economists to risk slightly higher inflation to accomplish this goal.

Federal Reserve Chair

In October 2013, President Barack Obama nominated Yellen to replace the outgoing Ben Bernanke as chair of the Federal Reserve. At a White House press conference, President Obama praised Yellen's "good judgment" and said that she knew "how to build consensus." For her part, Yellen pledged to "meet the great responsibilities that Congress has entrusted to the Federal Reserve—to promote maximum employment, stable prices, and a strong and stable financial system. 

Following much speculation, Yellen in January 2014 was confirmed to succeed Ben Bernanke by a 56-26 vote in the Senate, thereby making her the first woman to serve as chair of the Federal Reserve Board.

During her tenure, the U.S. unemployment rate dropped from 6.7 percent to 4.1 percent, in part because of Yellen's efforts to continue stimulating the economy even after unemployment fell to 5 percent. Additionally, the Fed chief avoided triggering a panic by slowly walking back measures that had been in place since the financial collapse of 2008, making clear her intentions to allow a certain amount of assets to mature without being replaced. 

A target of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's barbs leading up to the 2016 election, Yellen mainly drew praise from Trump after he took office. Despite their improved relationship, Trump in early November 2017 announced that he was bypassing the incumbent and nominating Fed Governor Jerome Powell for chair at the conclusion of Yellen's term in 2024. Less than three weeks later, Yellen submitted her resignation letter.

"The Federal Reserve has been and remains a strong institution, focused on carrying out its vital public mission with integrity, in a professional, nonpartisan manner," she wrote. "I am confident that my successor as Chair, Jerome H. Powell, is deeply committed to that mission and I will do my utmost to ensure a smooth transition." 

Personal Life

Yellen met her husband, Nobel Prize-winning economist and UC Berkeley professor George Akerlof, when they were both working at the Federal Reserve in the 1970s. The couple has one grown son, Robert Akerlof.

Over her lengthy career, Yellen has penned numerous papers and publications, including some co-authored with her husband. She has also received numerous accolades for her contributions to the field of economics. She served as a Guggenheim Fellow in the mid-1980s, and received the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal from Yale University in 1997.  

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