Stories, World

Data: 30% of all Nobel Laureates were born in the USA


The Nobel prizes were being awarded starting in the year 1901. Till 2020, a total of 930 unique individuals & 25 organizations received the 603 Nobel awards. 30% of all the Nobel laureates were born in the USA. Only 6% of the awardees are Women. 

In his last will, Swedish inventor, entrepreneur, scientist, and businessman, who also wrote poetry and dramaAlfred Nobel declared that his remaining assets were to be used to constitute a fund, the interest on which would be distributed every year as prizes to ‘those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind’. He clearly mentioned that the prize would be divided equally into five- for the best contribution in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and to the person who has contributed by and large to bring Peace on Earth. 

Alfred Nobel had further mentioned that Swedish Academy of Sciences would give the awards for Physics and Chemistry, Karolinska Institute in Stockholm for Medicine, Academy in Stockholm for Literature, and a committee of five persons to be selected by the Norwegian Storting would give the prize for Peace. He also stated that the awards should be given to the worthiest persons, irrespective of nationality. 

The Nobel Prize was first awarded in 1901 in the five fields. It was in 1968, Sweden’s central bank, Sveriges Riksbank established the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel. The responsibility to select the laureates was given to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Thus, the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was included only in 1969. 


603 awards given between 1901 and 2020

Between 1901 and 2020, a total of 603 Nobel Prizes were awarded, including the Prize in Economic Sciences. The greatest number of prizes were given in the field of Physics (114), followed by Literature (113), Chemistry (112), and Medicine (111). There have been times when the Nobel Prize was not awarded. A total of 49 awards across fields were not given so far including the period during World War I (1914 to 1918) and World War II ( 1939 to 1945).  Also, if no work has been found to be worthy, the award may not be given in a particular year. So far, the Prize for Economic Sciences has been awarded regularly amongst all the fields. 

A maximum of up to three persons can share a prize as per the Nobel Foundation’s statutes. The 603 awards have been awarded to 962 laureates including 934 individuals and 28 organizations. Only a handful have been awarded more than once. A total of 930 unique individuals and 25 unique organizations have received the prestigious Prize at least once. Four individuals and two organizations have received the award more than once.  

International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) won the Peace Prize three times and the UNHCR that works with refugees won the Peace Prize twice. The founder of ICRC, Henry Dunant was the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. John Bardeen won Nobel Prize in Physics twice and Frederick Sanger won twice in Chemistry. Linus Pauling won the prize in Chemistry in 1954 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. Marie Curie is the only woman who won the Award twice- in 1903 for Physics and in 1911 for Chemistry. In fact, she was the first woman recipient of the award. 

Only 57 women have received Nobel Prize in over 120 years

Since the inception of the awards 120 years ago, only 57 women have received the award compared to 873 male recipients. In other words, a mere 6% of the individuals who have been awarded are women. However, this number has been improving over the last few decades.

In the first decade beginning 1901, three women received the award. In the subsequent decade, Marie Curie was the only woman to have received the award. No woman received the award during the period 1951 to 1960 during which over 70 awards were given. 69 of these were given to men and one was conferred to an organization. 60% of the women laureates received their awards after 1990. Four women each have been awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018 & 2020. The year 2009 holds the distinction for most women recipients, when 5 of the 13 laureates were women.   

Majority of Women Nobel laureates received their award for bringing Peace

Analysis of the number of women laureates by field reveals that 17 women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and 16 women were awarded the Prize in Literature. A further 12 women were awarded the Prize for their contribution in the field of Medicine and Physiology. The two women laureates in Economic Sciences are Elinor Ostrom (2009) and Esther Duflo (2019). Only 7 women won the Prize for Chemistry and 4 won in Physics, including Marie Curie who was awarded once in each of these fields. Of the four awardees in Physics, Andrea Ghez won the award in 2020 and Donna Strickland won the award in 2018. Two of the seven awardees in Chemistry were awarded in 2020.

Every 3 out of 4 Women laureates were from North America or Europe

About 24 of the 57 women Nobel laureates are from Europe and 18 are from North America. Together, nearly 74% of the women recipients are from either of these two continents. Except for two awardees each in Medicine and Chemistry, all the other women recipients of the award in the fields of Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, and Economic Science are from Europe and North America. 

Only one woman from South America (Chile) and one from the Oceania (Australia) have received the award. 15 of the 18 women from North America are from the USA, making it the country with the maximum number of women Nobel Prize winners. France has the highest number of women recipients in Europe and second in the world with four women recipients. Germany with 3 women recipients has the third highest number of female Nobel awardees in the world. 

30% of Nobel Laureates were born in USA

USA is the country of birth for the most Nobel laureates across the globe. A total of 281 of the 934 individual Nobel awardees or 30% of all the individual awardees were born in the USA.  UK, Germany, and France was the country of birth of more than 50 recipients each. Nearly 54% of the Nobel laureates were born in one of these four countries.

10 Nobel laureates, all men, were born in India. The list includes Ronald Ross, Rabindranath Tagore, Sir C V Raman, H Gobind Khorana, Abdus Salam, S Chandrashekar, Amartya Sen, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Kailash Satyarthi, and Abhijit Banerjee.

Two laureates didn’t accept the award while one laureate was forced to return

Two Nobel Laureates- Jean Paul Sartre and Le Duc Tho declined the prize awarded to them. Jean Paul Sartre declined the award as he consistently declined all the official honours. Le Duc Tho cited the situation in Vietnam for not accepting the Peace Prize. Boris Pasternak had initially accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature but was later coerced by authorities in Soviet Union to decline. Adolf Hitler forbade three German laureates- Richard Kuhn, Adolf Butenandt, and Gerhard Domagk from accepting the award. However, they later received the Nobel Prize Diploma and Medal but not the prize amount. 

Featured Image: Nobel Laureates


About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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