Nobel Prize winners are sometimes quick to make strong controversial comments (such as this year’s), yet we wonder why they say nothing about the pink elephant in the room. That pink elephant being the reason why women are not winning the Nobel Prize when there’s obviously plenty of them around who deserve the recognition. And we are talking only 5% of all winners have been women – and yet there are more women in the world than men. What gives?
Why are Nobel Laureates Overwhelmingly Male
Of the 881 people who have won the Nobel Prize from 1901 to 2017, just 48 of them have been female. In certain fields, this female drought has gone on for decades. The very last woman that won a Nobel Prize in physics, Maria Goeppert Mayer, received the award in year 1964. This gap is reflecting institutional prejudices against women that have gone on for decades in the sciences. This lag is exacerbated from the decades long backlog of discoveries that many consider Nobel worthy.
Female Nobel laureates
Of course, Nobel Museum curators are telling us there is no evidence where the committee refused to give the award to a nominee because they were female. They also claim the committee actually bent the rules to make sure Marie Curie got the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903. Of course, this comes as a small consolation for extremely qualified women scientists who never get recognized.
For example, there is Lise Meitner, who is a co-discoverer of nuclear fission, got nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics some 29 times from the year 1937 to 1965, and also got nominated for the chemistry prize some 19 times from year 1924 to 1948, this is according to archival records from the Nobel Foundation. And sadly, she never won the Nobel. And then there was astronomer Vera Rubin, who provided some groundbreaking work that revealed dark matter and its very existence and she received lots public acclaim. Sadly, on December 25, 2016 she died after receiving no Nobel Prize.
Ever the first Nobel Prizes were handed out in 1901, a little less than 900 people have received these prestigious awards. Since the most recent laureates just received their awards, it is a good time to examine the award itself and some its interesting facts.
It seems that the United States has collected the largest number of Nobel Prizes among all the countries of the world. Even the 2017 co-winners come from the United States. We have Professor Joachim Frank, who comes from Columbia University, and then we have MIT physicist Rainer Weiss.
Recent evidence has shown that those who have an international type lifestyle lends itself to more innovation. Recent studies posted in the publication Nature published indicates that scientists that move about internationally on a regular basis are most likely to be recognized than those academics that choose to stay inside their country.
Modern Science Nobel Laureates are Older
When we look at this year’s laureates in physics, medicine, and chemistry, we see that all of them except one happen to be over 70 years of age. This reflects a graying trend overall among all the laureates. During the last century, we have seen average ages at recognition time that have crept upward.
In an interview last year, Nobel Museum curator Gustav Källstrand stated that the academic fields have dramatically changed over the last century. When we look back about a century ago, we see that around a thousand physicists. Today, we see hundreds of thousands of them—maybe even a million—across the world, thus making this “breakthrough backlog” so much bigger with every passing year.
This is not all, we are seeing economists and novelists grow in numbers, but they are not graying at quite the same rate as that of the sciences. In spite of these numbers, the general trend of the Nobel Peace Prize has been favoring younger laureates. The Peace Prize has claimed the very youngest ever Nobel recipient, Malala Yousafzai, who was only 17 at the time she co-won this prize in 2014.