Why so few women/minorities among Nobel Prize Winners

I was recently perusing a list of all the nobel prize winners, and while I wasn’t suprised at the plethora of white males in the earlier parts of the 20th century, it surprised me quite a bit that even from the 1970’s on there were very few women. Also, I assumed that in the last 3-4 decades or so, Asians would be very well represented among the science winners, which is also not the case. Furthermore, it seems that most of the winners in recent decades are Europeans, especially in the sciences, which suprised me because I thought that the mega-institutions in the U.S. (Cal Tech, MIT, and such) churned out most of the global scientific breakthroughs.

So why is this? I know the Nobel committee has a reputation for being biased, but actually I thought thier bias went in the opposite direction of what this data seems to show; that is, I thought they were often accused of being “too PC” and awarding awards to women and minorities when actually white males deserved them more. Furthermore, are they known for having a bias towards Europeans over North Americans? Or, really, have the major contributions in all the areas except Peace (in which there is a fair share of women and minorities) been made by white male Europeans?

It is because, historically, up to about 1970, only white males have been allowed the opportunity to fully develop their potential as contributors to society or to any field of science or scholarship.

100 or even 20 years from now, the thread title will appear anachronistic, and meaningless except for historical purposes.

Right, but let’s say women were first able to develop their academic potentials beginning in the 1970’s, and around that time minorities internationally also began to compete for the scientific/academic spotlight; why is it that in the 30 years since then there are still so few women/minorities among the science winners? That was my primary question

Upon further exploration of the Nobel prize site, it appears that the people with primary nominating power seem to be professors at the Royal Academy of Sweden, and professors at other scandanavian university. Which might explain why every other person who wins a nobel prize seems to be from Denmark or some such. Still, other opinions, Dopers?

Because it takes more than 30 years to bring an entire class of people to the elite level of the scientific world. Simply opening the doors of the university to women/minorities doesn’t mean that the first small crop will be welcomed with open arms. They have no support infrastuctor or mentors, it’s difficult to break the “old boy’s” network. There are few role models.

Also, it takes many years after a discovery or breakthrough to recognize that the work is worthy. The work that people are receiving Nobel Prizes for was done many years ago.

The nobel prize is notoriously conservative and only recognises the work of people many years after it has been developed and the scientific impact is clear. Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising that it the full effects of modern participation by asians and women haven’t been reflected in the nobel prizes yet.


Haven’t a lot of Jews won the Nobel Prize? I would think they qualify as minorities.


Let’s split this up into the years 1901 through 1981 and the years 1982 through 2005. That’s a little more than three times as long a period for the 1901-1981 era as for the 1982-2005 era. Look at the number of women winners in each era:

Physics: 2 in the earlier era and 0 in the later era
Chemistry: 3 in the earlier era and 0 in the later era
Physiology or Medicine: 2 in the earlier era and 5 in the later era
Literature: 6 in the earlier era and 4 in the later era
Peace: 6 in the earlier era and 6 in the later era

Given that the earlier era is over three times as long, it’s clear that women are distinctly better represented in the later era for Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace than in the early era. So in those fields, it is clear that women are now more likely to win Nobel Prizes than they used to be, although they aren’t yet equally represented among the winners. There are so few women winners in Physics or in Chemistry that the split in numbers here doesn’t indicate anything.

It appears to me from the announcements of Nobel Prize winners that I’ve heard that the winners tend to be fifty-ish and to have done their most important work about ten years before the prize is given. So the winners this year, if they are about 55, will have entered college in about 1969. In 1969, law schools and medical schools tended to have about 5% women in their classes, as opposed to about 45% today. I believe that grad schools in many scientific subjects had porportionately as much increase, although the proportions started lower, about 3% in many sciences in 1969 as opposed to 25% today. It’s still a little early to expect to see the influx of large numbers of women reflected in the Nobel Prizes as yet.

Furthermore, the universities and other research institutions in the U.S. are very well represented, especially after World War II. In the link, click on Prize Winners and Universities. Look at how many American universities and other research institutions are represented.

Uh, maybe that was a bit of a misunderstanding. I don’t mean conservative in the political sense but that they are very cautious about giving out prizes until well after the scientific impact is clearly established. Looking though a quick summary of Nobel Physics Prizes




Similar trends are evident in different fields as well.

Maybe we were too busy just sittin’ there lookin’ pretty. (Is my lipstick on straight?)

I’m interested in learning where you got this idea from. Can you cite examples of these accusations taking place?

I have never heard of the Nobel committee being PC but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had that reputation just for the fact that there’s Europeans in it. The UN is treated the same way.

See this thread.

Who was arguing that white guys were more deserving in that thread?

Nobody in those terms exactly, but there were accusations of PCness.

I sensed it was because of the limp-wristed, Burkenstock image associated with the category (Peace Prize), not because a black woman undeservedly was selected as the winner.

Really, I wish folks would think a little bit before they call something PC. All too often it comes across as code for “any outcome, policy, or terminology that offends me for reasons that I can’t cogently articulate but all’s I suspect is that it’s got something to do with appeasing those women and minorities, and therefore its bad”. When that charge is just thrown out there without any support its extra aggravating.

Because they are dumb. Thats why.

Aren’t Europeans minorities, considered as part of the whole world’s population?

Had I to guess, I’d say the groundbreaking work of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar in 1930 getting him a Nobel in physics in 1983 is the longest such delay.