Nobel Prize gender gap goes beyond selection

University of Chicago professor Richard Thaler left, shakes hands with University of Chicago provost Dan Diermeir right, while University of Chicago president Robert J. Zimmer, center, looks on during a news conference announcing Thaler as the winner of the Nobel economics prize Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Within the last couple of weeks, we have seen the announcement of the 2017 Nobel Prize recipients. In a somewhat unsurprising conclusion, all the recipients this year are, once again, men. In fact, as National Geographic reports, of 881 Nobel Prize recipients between the award’s inception in 1901 and today, only 48 have been women. This striking gap between male and female recipients is no light matter and many people have encouraged the Nobel Prize selection committee to take action and counter this issue. However, any action taken to increase the number of female recipients must surpass the selection committee, for the issue is much more deeply entrenched.

For this five percent representation of women in Nobel Prizes to be possible, some responsibility must obviously be assigned to the selection process itself, which is not taking enough care to make sure that men and women are equally represented. However, according to a report from the Independent, it is true that three of the six selection committees are headed by women. However, nominations and selections are made with input from a wide range of experts all over the world.

Additionally, there is a noticeable change in the distribution of male and female prizes in different fields. According to Fortune magazine, between 1901 and 2015, women comprise 12.4 percent of Nobel Peace Prize recipients and 12.5 percent of Nobel Prize in Literature recipients, but only 1.32 percent of recipients for the Prize in Economic Sciences and one percent of those who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. While the gender gaps in literature and peace prizes are still astoundingly obvious, the larger issue seems to be in science-related fields.

This suggests that a significant portion of the issue is systemic. As vice chair of the board of directors of the Nobel Foundation, Göran Hansson said at the announcement of the 2017 winner of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, “there were far fewer women scientists if you go back 20 or 30 years,” and “there was an even larger bias against women then.” Per Stromberg, the chair of the committee that gave the prize in economics, also added that “we are indeed awarding research, where discoveries were made in the 70s, 80s, early 90s.… As time goes by, the fraction of women Nobel laureates will increase.”


Alex Oliveira is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.oliveira@uconn.edu.