20:1 for the Nobel Prize

Today the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to…three more men. Not to belittle the achievements of these men, but it struck me yet again that there were no female awardees to be seen. And its not like this is an anomaly. In the history of the Nobel Prize there have been a total of 840 Nobel Laureates; 813 individuals and 20 unique organizations (with a few people/organisations winning the award more than once). Of these 813 individuals, 773 of them have been male and just 40 females (around a 20:1 ratio). That means that 95% of all Nobel prize winners have been male . This includes the awards across all fields, including Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Literature, Peace and Economic Sciences.

A list of all the female laureates can be found here: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/women.html

I was curious to see how the 41 prizes (40 women, Marie Curie won it twice) stacked up over time. Are we really seeing things getting better, and are they getting better fast enough? So I plotted the number of female Nobel prize winners over each decade since its inception:

Female Nobel Laureates over time

Up until the nineties, basically nothing had changed. About 3 or so women were getting the price each decade (compared to around 70 men). Then in the 90’s there were seven women and in the period 2001-2010 there were 11 women.  This is a definite improvement, but still nowhere near parity with the male awardees.

I was particularly stunned by a response I got from some Nobel-associated people I was at a conference with earlier in the year. When I said that I would like to see greater promotion of women in science, the general response that I got was that the situation would basically fix itself, and once there were more women in science they would get more prizes. I’m sure the second half of that is true, but I certainly dont think just sitting back and hoping for more women to make it to the top of their field, be it science, economics or medicine is going to work.

How much responsibility do you think an organisation like the Nobel prize has to promoting equality? Do you think this trend will continue, or did we just get lucky in the noughties?

Fingers crossed that the figures for the next decade will soar, however given today’s announcement, I cant say I am too optimistic…

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1 Response to 20:1 for the Nobel Prize

  1. Update: 3 Women win the Nobel Peace Prize!

    “The Nobel Peace Prize 2011 was awarded jointly to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.”


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