For Nobelist, economics is all in the family

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


akerlof and yellen

George Akerlof and his wife, Janet Yellen, in front of their favorite campus spot.
Peg Skorpinski photo

17 October 2001 | Economics is a big part of Nobelist George Akerlof ‘s life — not just at the office, but at home.

It was through his work in this field that he met his wife of 23 years, economist Janet Yellen, who headed the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in the mid 1990s and the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration.

“We met in 1977 in Washington D.C. when I was an economist for the Federal Reserve Board and he was a visiting researcher there,” recalled Yellen, now a professor in the Haas School of Business and the College of Letters and Science. “It was a pretty quick romance; we met in September and were married by July the next year.”

The two brainy economists share a similar economic philosophy and have worked together on numerous published papers, including “Fairness and Unemployment,” “Rational Models of Irrational Behavior” and “Gang Behavior, Law Enforcement and Community Values.”

At home, talk often turns to economic ideas and their application in the world.

“It’s part of our daily talks around the dinner table,” said Akerlof.

All this confabulation about markets, interest rates, and other matters economic rubbed off on their son, Robert, now a junior at Yale majoring in math and economics.

“There were a lot of intellectual discussions at home when I was growing up,” said Robert, 20, speaking from the East Coast. “That’s a big part of the reason I got interested in this line of study.”

Even as a small child, he said, his parents encouraged him to join their dialogues on economics, even when the concepts were way over his head.

“They never disrespected my opinions, and they always motivated me to learn more,” he said. “I was definitely inspired by my parents.”

Having a Nobel Prize winner and a former presidential adviser as your parents might mean a lot of pressure to succeed. But Robert does not bear that cross.

“Whether I do as well as them or not,” Robert said humbly, “I just feel tremendously lucky to have them as parents.”

Yellen is much more certain of her son’s prospects.

“He’s smarter than both of us put together,” she said. “He’ll do just fine on his own.”

Though research and teaching is a big part of his life, Akerlof is a devout family man who has spent a lot of time traveling, hiking and “just hanging out” with his wife and son.

“My dad put parenting above everything else,” Robert said. “When I was little, he put aside his research for a number of years to focus on raising me. He’s a wonderful, devoted and loyal father.”


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