Born Jean Marie Untinen on February 18, 1936 in Chicago, Illinois, the second of five children of Neil Solomon Untinen, a housepainter, and Martha Wirtanen. She married with Ray Bernard Auel (surname pronounced like "owl"), they have five children and live in Portland, Oregon.
Auel has been a member of Mensa since 1964. She attended Portland State University and the University of Portland. While studying, she worked as a clerk (1965-1966), a circuit board designer (1966-1973), technical writer (1973-1974), and a credit manager at Tektronix (1974-1976). At one time, she shared a secretary with author Ursula K. Le Guin. She earned an MBA in 1976 and has received honorary degrees from the University of Maine and Mount Vernon College for Women.