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Emily O'Hara Ratajkowski was born on June 7, 1991, in Westminster, London, the only child of Kathleen Anne Balgley with Irish and Polish Jewish roots and John David "J. D. " Ratajkowski, with Polish roots. Balgley, with a Ph. D. from UCSD, and then-lecturer of English at UCLA, taught American Literature in Poland, September 1987 to July 1988 and September 1988 to July 1989 under the Fulbright Program. Balgley met J. D. , a painter and art teacher, while they were both teaching at San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas, California. At the time of their daughter's birth, they were aged 39 and 45, respectively, and unmarried. Ratajkowski describes her mother as a "feminist and intellectual". The family lived in West Kensington and Bloomsbury before settling in San Diego, California, when Ratajkowski was five. She was raised primarily in nearby Encinitas in a small house near the ocean. Balgley formerly taught at California Polytechnic State University, and in 2011, teaches at San Diego Jewish Academy.