Irma Adelman was born in Czernowitz, Romania, in March of 1930. Her father was a Jewish businessman with socialist leanings, and although her mother was educated to be a lawyer, she never practiced and thus concentrated her energies on her only daughter, Irma. Despite Irma’s Jewish background, she was educated by French Catholic nuns, and her family lived in affluence in her early life. It was not long before her family encountered anti-Semitism and discrimination in the late 1930s, her father foresaw the dark shadow of World War II, and the family immigrated to Palestine in 1939. Irma attended high school in Palestine and also fought in the Israeli war of independence. After the war, she immigrated to the United States, where she enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), as a business administration major. Soon after her arrival at Berkeley, she met and married her husband, an American physics PhD candidate. They decided to settle in the United States and had one son, Alex.

After her undergraduate studies, Irma enrolled at UC Berkeley as a PhD student in economics. Given her strong quantitative skills, she benefited from training by Robert Dorfman in mathematical models in economics and from courses in econometrics and statistics offered by George Kuznets in the Department of Agricultural Economics. Her classmates in Kuznets's courses included Arnold Zellner, Zvi Griliches, and Yair Mundlak.

After graduating at the top of her class in 1955, Irma faced considerable difficulties in landing a tenure-track academic position, which was typical of the discrimination against professional women at the time. She held various nontenure appointments at UC Berkeley, at Mills College, and at Stanford for several years. During this period, she published her first book (Adelman & Morris 1973), the classic Klein-Goldberger paper (Adelman & Adelman 1959), and the pathbreaking hedonic pricing paper (Adelman & Griliches 1961), as well as many other publications in leading journals. Yet she was still unable to land a tenure-track position in the Bay Area. She and her husband decided to relocate due to her husband’s job offer, and thus she moved to Washington, DC, where she obtained a regular associate professorship at John Hopkins University. There she also met Cynthia Taft Morris, who would later become a lifelong friend and collaborator. While in Washington, DC, she became acquainted with agencies such as USAID and the World Bank. In 1966, she moved to Chicago for a position at Northwestern University, where she stayed until 1971. In 1973, she joined the World Bank along with having a professorship at the University of Maryland. From Maryland, in 1979 she returned to UC Berkeley’s Department of Agricultural Economics, where she stayed until her early retirement in 1995. She has been a professor emeritus of the Graduate School ever since.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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