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Women in the History of the Nobel Prize

Women in the History of the Nobel Prize

Out of 904 people to have ever received the Nobel Prize, only 51 have been women. This year, Donna Strickland was named a Nobel Prize winner in Physics, one of only three women to have been awarded the prize in Physics -- the first being Marie Curie in 1903, and the second being Maria Geoppert in 1963. Only one woman, Elinor Ostrom, has ever won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Particularly in the sciences, women have always been scarce. According to the Office of the Chief Economist, although women hold 47 percent of the jobs in the United States as of 2015, only 24 percent fill a job in the STEM field—and this is an enormous increase to what the number was 60 years ago. Curie, a brilliant female scientist in the early 20th century, is the only woman to receive two Nobel Prizes, one in Chemistry and one in Physics, and paired with her daughter, is the only mother-daughter duo to have both received Nobel Prizes. She should have been the first on a long list of female winners, yet the number of Nobel Prize winners that are women is only five percent.

An article published by BBC humorously noted that there are more men with the name Robert who have received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry than there have been female winners. And though the number of female Nobel Literature Prize and Peace Prize winners are slightly higher, it is not enough. Five percent is close to how much fat we want in our milk. It should not be the amount of women that receive one of the most prestigious prizes that can ever be awarded.

A first reason, though more of a stretch, as to why women only account for a small percentage of Nobel Prize winners is that the requirements are too stringent in the first place. In order to awarded, the prize cannot be shared amongst more than three people and people, no matter the brilliance of their work, cannot be nominated after their death. These rules do seem fair and offer little relation to gender. However, it was known to be that three women, Vera Rubin, Lisa Meitner, and Jocelyn Bell Burnell, were likely candidates for the Nobel Prize, yet when Vera Rubin died in 2016, it meant that her commendable work on dark matter would never be recognized.

The other and more likely reason is that there is a large gender gap in research. According to the Unesco Institute for Statistics, although women make up 53 percent of college graduates, only 29 percent of researchers are women. Part of the explanation could be that most researchers hold a PhD, yet only 41 percent of PhD students are women. Furthermore, once in the field, women within the STEM field, especially researchers, may experience covert and overt discrimination based on their gender. Most of this discrimination is usually due to stereotypes that a typical scientist is not a woman or that a woman may feel that she is less of woman for pursuing such scientific programs because of societal expectations. Due to not having that many women in the field in the first place, women do not have much support working in the STEM field. On top of that, they are statistically paid less.

Regardless, women should feel like they can pursue whatever career they like—without the burdens of discrimination, stereotype, and pay gap. There should be more women winning Nobel Prizes. There should be more women doing what they want to do, especially if that means science. It’s time to break the glass ceiling.

Year of the WINS (Women in Science)

Year of the WINS (Women in Science)

Where Purpose Meets Passion...BOOMerang

Where Purpose Meets Passion...BOOMerang