• Live
    • Audio Only
  • google plus
  • facebook
  • twitter
News > Science and Tech

It's a Man's World: Nobel Prize to Award Mostly Men – Again

  • Richard Thaler, Nobel laureate in economics, Richard Henderson, Nobel laureate in chemistry, Joachim Frank, Nobel laureate in chemistry, Jacques Dubochet, Nobel laureate in chemistry.

    Richard Thaler, Nobel laureate in economics, Richard Henderson, Nobel laureate in chemistry, Joachim Frank, Nobel laureate in chemistry, Jacques Dubochet, Nobel laureate in chemistry. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 December 2017

While the male-female ratio is slowly improving, this year's December 10 prize ceremony will be an all-male affair for the second year running.

The people behind the Nobel Prize are far from receiving an award for gender equality: new statistics released Friday show that women have traditionally been awarded only one out of every 20 prizes.

UNICEF: Most Sexual Violence Victims in Colombia Are Girls

While the number of women Nobel laureates has risen in recent decades — from just four between 1901 (the first year of the prizes) and 1920, to 19 between 2001 and 2017 — the 48 women crowned over the years represent just five percent of the total  896 people honoured, excluding organizations.

Of the five original Nobel Prizes created in 1895, the statistics vary depending on the discipline: the economics prize has been by far the most unattainable for women, with just one female recipient since it was first awarded in 1969.

The awards for physics and chemistry have been handed to just two and four women, respectively. The literature prize remains largely a male domain, while peace does somewhat better.

Paradoxically, the only woman to have ever won two Nobel Prizes, Marie Curie, was honoured in these two disciplines in 1903 and 1911.

"We are disappointed, looking in a larger perspective, that there aren't more women who've been awarded," admitted Goran Hansson, the permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which selects the physics, chemistry and economics laureates.

He insisted that "there is not any substantial male chauvinism bias in the committees" that choose the winners, four of which (medicine, chemistry, peace and literature) are currently headed by women.

The reason women are so poorly represented in the science fields, he says, is because laboratory doors were closed to women for so long.

Anne L'Huillier, a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences who sat on the Nobel physics committee in 2010, agrees. She notes that of the few women who made it into labs, even fewer made it to the top of their fields. "It's totally obvious, especially for hard sciences, perhaps less so for life sciences," she says.

A 2012 study by Yale University demonstrated, for instance, that research labs and university departments, when evaluating identical resumes, prefer to mentor, offer jobs, or recommend equal salaries to "John" rather than "Jennifer."

The list of winners of the medicine prize, awarded by the prestigious Karolinska Institute, is more encouraging: 12 women out of 214 laureates, or 5.6 percent, but still appalling for the economics prize.

28 Years After Montreal Massacre, Women Still Fight Violence

"You noticed, it is right, that we are all white men," 2017 Nobel economics laureate Richard Thaler said Thursday in Stockholm. "We are also all old white men, and all of these projects have been going on for 30 years or longer."

As for literature, 14 women received the prize: in total, 12.3 percent of literature laureates and 36 percent of those honoured since 2007 have been women.

"Things are going in the right direction," the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy that awards the literature prize, Sara Danius, wrote on her blog. "That is not to say that the statistics can't get better. They can and they will.

"At the same time, it is worth recalling that the Swedish Academy does not strive to obtain good statistics for the sake of good statistics. The only thing the Academy cares about is quality," wrote Danius, recently dragged into a scandal after 18 women accused the French husband of a Swedish Academy member of harassing, assaulting and raping them.

The peace prize is the most favourable to women: 16 women laureates out of 104 people awarded — 15.4 percent — yet still far from gender parity. As with the other prizes, things are slowly improving: six women have won the peace prize in the past 15 years.

The trend reflects the feminisation of the committee that awards the prize. "In the long run, it's of course important that we have gone from a committee dominated by men to a committee where we are about 50-50," Njolstad said.

The Nobel prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics are awarded in Sweden, and the one for peace in Norway — two allegedly pioneering countries in the area of women's rights.

Post with no comments.