“Anytime gender is raised as an issue, it doesn’t matter if you say it’s irrelevant or not,” said Laura Tyson, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who is close to Yellen and Brainard. “It’s raised.”

Tyson was among more than 400 economists who signed a letter to Obama, urging him to nominate Yellen and calling her “ superbly qualified .” The letter was organized by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a think tank, and included signatures from heavyweights such as Robert Shiller of Yale University, Michael Woodford of Columbia University and Christina Romer of Berkeley.