Only 65 of 1,000 Nobel prizes awarded to women

This year is one of the best years for women in the history of the Nobel prize: 4 of the 11 winners are women. The prestigious awards were set up to honour ‘those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind’ in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. The economics prize was added later, in 1969.

Since 1901, only 65 prizes have been awarded to women, a tiny 6.5% of the 1,000 awarded in total. When I told this to my daughter, who starts university next year, she said, cynically, ‘Are you surprised?’

This year American Claudia Goldin won the economics prize – the third woman ever to do so – Iranian Narges Mohammadi won the peace prize, Hungarian Katalin Karikó won the physiology or medicine prize, and French scientist Anne L’Huillier was one of 3 scientists to win the physics prize.

The peace prize has been awarded to 19 women, 3 of them Africans: Kenyan Wangari Maathai in 2004, and Liberians Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee in 2011. South Africa’s Nadine Gordimer is one of 17 female Nobel literature prize winners.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel prize in 1903, in physics, for her research in radioactivity. She won it again in 1911 for chemistry. Her daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, also won the chemistry prize in 1935, for her work in radioactivity.

More than half of the Nobel prizes that went to women were awarded in the past 20 years. A positive sign for women of my daughter’s generation. The average age at which women win their Nobel prizes is 58. I hope by the time my daughter reaches that age, it won’t be surprising if at least half of the prize winners are not men.

Hover over the points below to find out who won the Nobel prize in a year.

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