Janet Yellen, in full Janet Louise Yellen, (born August 13, 1946, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.), American economist, chair (2014–18) of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (“the Fed”), the central bank of the United States, and secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (2021– ). She was the first woman to hold each of those posts.
Yellen graduated summa cum laude in economics from Brown University (1967) and received a Ph.D. in economics from Yale University (1971). She then served as an assistant professor of economics at Harvard University until 1976. In 1977–78 she worked as an economist for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and in 1978–80 she served as a lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In 1980 Yellen joined the faculty of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, where she conducted research and taught macroeconomics at all levels, receiving numerous teaching awards. She was appointed Bernard T. Rocca, Jr. Professor of International Business and Trade in 1992 and Eugene E. and Catherine M. Trefethen Professor of Business Administration and Professor of Economics in 1999. She subsequently became professor emeritus at the Haas School of Business.
In 1994 Yellen took a leave of absence from Berkeley to serve as a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, a post she held until 1997. She then left the Fed to become head of Pres. Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers until 1999. She concurrently chaired the Economic Policy Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Yellen returned to Berkeley in 1999 and taught there until 2004, when she was appointed president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She was appointed vice chair of the Board of Governors of the Fed in 2010. Three years later Pres. Barack Obama nominated her as the next head of the Federal Reserve System. There was some controversy surrounding her nomination, mainly because many Republicans believed that she would place too much emphasis on reducing unemployment and not enough on controlling inflation. Nevertheless, in January 2014 she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 56 to 26, the smallest confirmation margin of a head of the Federal Reserve System in history. Her four-year term began on February 3, 2014.
Once in office, Yellen began the process of reversing some of the policies that had been enacted in response to the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. Notably, she oversaw a program to sell Treasury and mortgage bonds that the Fed had purchased to stimulate the economy. Her tenure was also noted for job and wage growth, both of which occurred while she maintained low interest rates. Yellen left the Fed in February 2018, after Pres. Donald Trump failed to nominate her for a second term. She was succeeded by Jerome H. Powell. In 2020 President-elect Joe Biden announced that he would be nominating Yellen as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. She was confirmed by the Senate in January 2021 by a vote of 84 to 15.
Yellen held an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Brown University and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Bard College. Throughout her academic career, she wrote extensively on a wide variety of topics, particularly macroeconomics and unemployment dynamics. She is married to George A. Akerlof, a cowinner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001.