Women Have Won Only 48 of Nearly 900 Nobel Prizes. Why?

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?

Is the Nobel Committee Sexists?

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.

Nobel laureates are overwhelmingly male

Out of the 881 individuals who won Nobel Prizes between 1901 and 2016, only 48 have been women. In some disciplines, the drought has persisted for decades: The last woman to win a Nobel Prize for physics, Maria Goeppert Mayer, was honored in 1964. The gap reflects longtime institutional biases against women within the sciences, a lag exacerbated by the decades-long backlog of Nobel-worthy discoveries.