But the influence of her husband in shaping her thinking and professional success cannot be overestimated, say those who have known the couple for decades. Yellen and Akerlof declined interview requests.
The support went both ways. Yellen helped Akerlof maintain the focus that distinguished his academic work, highlighted in 2001 when he shared a Nobel Prize in economics. He later wrote in an autobiography for The Nobel Foundation (posted on Nobelprize.org) about happily collaborating with his wife for more than a decade.
"Not only did our personalities mesh perfectly, but we have also always been in all but perfect agreement about macroeconomics. Our lone disagreement is that she is a bit more supportive of free trade than I," he wrote.
Yellen, 67, came to the Fed in 1977 from Harvard University after a recruiting effort that involved Ted Truman, then about to take over the Fed's international finance division. Truman had known Yellen since 1967 when she came to Yale University to pursue her PhD in economics; he was a junior professor and heard her oral exam.
The recruiters faced an uphill battle because Yellen was teaching at Harvard University and her early research made her a sought-after talent. But she took the Fed job to work on projects in trade and financial studies.
The Fed was under pressure in 1977 with rising inflation unsettling the economy. Truman assigned Yellen to research international monetary reform.
(Read more: The case against Janet Yellen)
Akerlof, 73, whose early paper, "The Market for Lemons," had made a splash among economists, landed at the central bank for a one-year stint between jobs. Recently divorced, he came from the University of California-Berkeley en route to a post at the London School of Economics.
After connecting with Yellen, "we decided to get married hastily, not only because we had so little doubt about each other, but also for practical reasons … if we were to avoid being separated, Janet would also need to get a job in England too," he wrote.
Truman said Yellen had barely settled into the Fed before announcing she would join Akerlof and lecture at the London School of Economics. "We were disappointed when she left with him, though completely understanding. We had invested a lot in attracting her," he told Reuters in an email.
Yellen, of course, would be back eventually—next as a Fed board member and one of Truman's seven bosses.
In London, Yellen and Akerlof both had identity problems. "We were Americans, not English," he later wrote. After two years, they returned to Berkeley, where Yellen was hired to teach in the business school.
Yellen twice won a coveted Berkeley teaching award. And she and Akerlof, sometimes in partnership with others, collaborated on research that benefited from their different styles, colleagues said.
"George was less disciplined, more artistic and perhaps creative; Janet was more grounded, sensible, and a paragon of common sense," said Andrew K. Rose, who was hired by Yellen and now serves as associate dean of Berkeley's Haas School of Business. Rose collaborated with the couple on several papers, including a year of research on the East German economy.