Biography of Janet Yellen

Economist and Federal Reserve Board Vice Chair

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen
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Janet L. Yellen is the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve and the first woman to lead lead the central bank of the United States. Yellen was appointed to the post, often described as the second most powerful position in the nation aside from that of commander-in-chief, by President Barack Obama in October 2013 to replace Ben Bernanke. Obama called Yellen “one of the nation’s foremost economists and policy makers.”

Bernanke’s first and only term as Federal Reserve chairman ended in January 2014; he chose not to accept a second term. Before her appointment by Obama, Yellen held the second-highest position on the Fed Board of Governors and was considered to be one of its most dovish members, meaning she is more concerned with the negative effects of unemployment rather than the impact of inflation on the economy.

Economic Beliefs

Janet Yellen has been described as a “traditional American Keynesian,” meaning she believes government intervention can stabilize the economy. She supported some of Bernanke’s more unorthodox policies in dealing with a troubled economy during The Great Recession. Yellen is a Democrat who is seen as a monetary policy “dove” whose views on the economy meshed with the Obama administration’s, particularly on high unemployment being a larger threat to the nation’s economy than inflation. 

"Reducing unemployment should take center stage," Yellen has said.

"In a field noted for its conservatism and adherence to free-market orthodoxy, she has long stood out as a lively and liberal thinker who resisted the rightward shift that many of her colleagues took in the eighties and nineties," wrote the New Yorker’s John Cassidy.

Catherine Hollander of the National Journal described Yellen as “one of the most dovish members of the Fed's policy-setting committee, supporting continuation of the Fed's unconventional strategy of buying large amounts of bonds to get the economy growing as others ... call for an end to the purchases."

Wrote The Economist magazine: "An accomplished academic, Ms Yellen is a strong backer of Mr Bernanke’s expansionary policies and one of the most dovish members of the FOMC. Last year she made the case for a more sustained attack on unemployment with prolonged zero interest rates, even at the cost of temporarily higher inflation."


Janet Yellen has drawn some criticism from conservatives for supporting Bernanke’s moves to purchase Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, controversial efforts known as quantitative easing to boost the economy by lowering interest rates. U.S. Sen. Michael Crapo of Idaho, for example, said at the time of Yellen's appointment that he would "continue to strongly disagree with the Fed’s use of quantitative easing.” Crapo was the senior Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.

Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana also described efforts to stimulate the economy by keeping interest rates low as an artificial “sugar high” and would be among the lawmakers expected to be skeptical of a Yellen chairmanship.

"The cost of this open ended easy money policy dramatically outweighs the short term benefits,” Yellen has said about the Fed’s stimulus efforts. He has warned such maneuvers will eventually lead to “rampant inflation and potentially a return to a world with twenty percent interest rates."

Professional Career

Before her appointment to chairwoman, Janet Yellen served as the vice chair of the Federal Reserve System’s Board of Governor’s, a position she held for about three years. Yellen had previously served as president and chief executive officer of the Twelfth District Federal Reserve Bank, in San Francisco.

A short biography of Yellen by the White House Council of Economic Advisers describes her as a “recognized scholar in international economics” who also specializes in macroeconomic issues such as the mechanisms and implications of unemployment.

Yellen is a professor emeritus of economics at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. She has been a faculty member there since 1980. Yellen also taught at Harvard University from 1971 until 1976.

Work with the Fed

Yellen counseled the Fed Board of Governors on issues such as international trade and finance, specifically the stabilization of international currency exchange rates, from 1977 to 1978.

She was appointed to the board by President Bill Clinton in February 1994, and then named chair of the Council of Economic Advisers by Clinton in 1997.

Yellen also served on the Congressional Budget Office’s Panel of Economic Advisers and as a senior adviser to a Brookings Institution Panel on economic activity.


Yellen graduated summa cum laude from Brown University in 1967 with a degree in economics. She earned a doctoral degree in economics from Yale University in 1971.

Personal Life

Yellen was born on August 13, 1946, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

She is married and has one child, a son, Robert. Her husband is George Akerlof, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.