She obtained a B.A. in Economics from University of California, Berkeley in 1978. She graduated from there in 1984 with a Ph.D. in Economics.
While a student at UC Berkeley from 1979 to 1983, Ghilarducci was a research assistant at its Institute of Industrial Relations (now its Institute for Research on Labor and Employment).
She was hired as an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Notre Dame in 1983; she was promoted to Associate Professor of Economics in 1991. She served as Director of its Higgins Labor Research Center (now its Higgins Labor Studies Program) from 1997 to 2007. It further promoted her to Professor of Economics and Policy Studies on August 22, 2005. She had an In Residence Fellowship at the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College from 1987 to 1988.
She serves as a public trustee for the health care VEBAs for United Auto Workers retirees of General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Chrysler, and United Steelworkers retirees of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.
She became a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute in 1994. and is now on the Executive Board. From September 1994 to May 1995, while on leave from Notre Dame, Ghilarducci was Assistant Director of the AFL-CIO's Department of Employee Benefits. She was a participant in the European Union Visitors Program from March 20 to April 3, 1995.
From 1996 to 2001, she served twice on the Advisory Board of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Concurrently, from 1996 to 2002, she served on the Board of Trustees of the State of Indiana Public Employees' Retirement Fund.
Ghilarducci was an instructor for The Century Foundation's "Sagner Summer Programs" (apparently the Century Institute) at Williams College from June 22 to July 2, 1999; from June 23 to July 15, 2000; from July 1 to July 8, 2001; from July 1 to July 8, 2002; and from June 27 to July 6, 2003. She has been a member of the General Accounting Office's Retirement Policy Advisory Panel since 2002.
She was a Wurf Fellow at The Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School from 2007 to 2009.
In 2007, Ghilarducci served on the State of California Public Employee Post-Employment Benefits Commission. She joined the faculty of The New School in January 2008. In February 2009, she joined Demos as a Distinguished Senior Fellow.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the United States Department of Labor, the Ford Foundation, the Retirement Research Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation have funded her research.
In her book When I'm Sixty-Four: The Plot against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them, Ghilarducci proposed mandatory participation in a government-run savings plan to which each worker and his employer would supplement his Social Security pension by contributing 5.0 percent each of her or his salary. The plan would be administered by the Social Security Administration, but would be separate from Social Security records. In turn, a refundable tax credit of $600 would go to each participant, regardless of his contributions. The account would have a guaranteed interest rate equal to the government's official inflation rate plus three percent.
Videos of lectures given by her and interviews with her can be found on YouTube.
In response to her book, When I'm Sixty-Four: The Plot against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them, James Pethokoukis of U.S. News & World Report in jest called her "the Most Dangerous Woman in America". Ghilarducci reported to Princeton University Press that she was surprised to discover that the label was being applied to her.When I'm Sixty-Four: The Plot against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them. 384 pages. Princeton University Press (May 18, 2008) ISBN 0-691-11431-5
Employee Pensions: Policies, Problems, and Possibilities. 236 pages. ILR Press; 1 edition (August 2007) ISBN 0-913447-95-1
Work Options for Older Americans. 488 pages. University of Notre Dame Press; 1 edition (April 1, 2007) ISBN 0-268-02970-9
Portable Pension Plans for Casual Labor Markets: Lessons from the Operating Engineers Central Pension Fund. 216 pages. Quorum Books (November 30, 1995) by Teresa Ghilarducci, Garth Mangum, Jeffrey S. Petersen, Peter Philips. ISBN 0-89930-995-X
Labor's Capital: The Economics and Politics of Private Pensions. 227 pages. The MIT Press (June 3, 1992) ISBN 0-262-07139-8