Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 4, 1931, Rivlin grew up in Bloomington, Indiana. She earned her bachelor's degree at Bryn Mawr College and her PhD in economics from Radcliffe College (Harvard University).
Rivlin has been affiliated with The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. for many decades. Brookings published a series of her lectures in 1971 entitled, Systematic Thinking for Social Action, in which she analyzes the effectiveness of government programs that aim to tackle social problems.
Rivlin has served a number of top governmental roles over the years. She has served as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (1968-69), director of the Congressional Budget Office (1977-83), deputy director and director of the Office of Management and Budget (1993-94 and 1994-96), governor of the Federal Reserve (1996-99) and chair of the D.C. Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority (1998-2001) and a member of Barack Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility & Reform (2010). Rivlin was the first woman to direct the Office of Management and Budget.
Among her many accolades are the MacArthur Foundation "genius" award (1983), the first Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize from the American Academy of Political and Social Science (2008), a Foremother Award from the National Research Center for Women & Families (2012), and the Robert M. Ball Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Insurance by the National Academy of Social Insurance (2013).
Rivlin has taught at Harvard, Georgetown, George Mason and New School Universities and is a visiting professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. She is married to Sidney G. Winter and the couple has three children.