As of today, all of the 2020 Nobel Prizes have now been announced, and this post reviews the remarkable history of the Nobel Prize from 1901-2020 using maps, charts, and tables to help summarize my ten most interesting observations about the 930 individual Nobel laureates by country, geographical region, gender, religion, research affiliation, and age. The top map above showing Nobel Prizes by regions around the world was inspired by a similar one featured in an October 15, 2013, Washington Post article by Max Fisher (now at the NY Times) titled “The Amazing history of the Nobel Prize, told in map and charts.”
According to this Nobel website, 934 Laureates (877 men and 57 women) from 80 different countries and 28 organizations have been awarded Nobel Prizes between 1901 and 2020 for a grand total of 962 laureates. Of them, 86 are Laureates in Economic Sciences. A small number of individuals (four) and organizations (three) have been honored with Nobel prizes more than once, which means that 930 individuals and 25 unique organizations have received the Nobel Prize in total.
Looking back on the 120-year history of Nobel Prizes, here are my top ten most interesting observations about Nobel Prizes and the 930 individual Nobel laureates based on the maps above, and the underlying data for laureates by country, gender, religion, research affiliation, and age.
1. Western Countries Dominate Nobel Awards. The two maps above show the number of Nobel Prizes awarded to laureates in eight geographical areas and one country (South Africa, since that one country represents most of the awards for Africa), based on this list of Nobel laureates by country. The list includes a total of 1,139 country affiliations for Nobel Prizes because some of the 930 individual Nobel laureates are listed for more than one country when the official Nobel website mentions multiple countries — usually the country of birth and the country where the laureate resides when the prize is awarded. For example, two Nobel laureates this year have dual-country affiliations: Emmanuelle Charpentier for Chemistry (born in France, current affiliation in Germany), and Michael Houghton for Medicine/Physiology (born in the UK, current affiliation in Canada).
One of the most interesting observations about the map above is that it shows that just two areas of the world: a) the US and Canada (421 laureates) and b) Western Europe (506 laureates) together represent the vast majority of the 1,139 country affiliations associated with Nobel laureates, and more than 81% of the total number of laureates since 1901. When the 15 Nobel laureates from Australia and New Zealand are included, the share of Nobel Prizes awarded to laureates in Western countries (930) increases to 82.7%.
The second (proportional) map above is redrawn to show the relative size of each geographic area based on the number of Nobel Prizes received and helps to further illustrate graphically the dominance of US/Canada and Western Europe for Nobel laureates (and organizations) – those two areas represent more than 81% of the world map.
2. Top Ten Nobel-winning Countries. The United States is by far the world’s leading country for receiving Nobel Prizes with an astonishing 393 individual laureates over the last 120 years (and 42.3% of all 930 individual laureates), which is almost three times more than the second-highest ranked country — the United Kingdom, with 134 awards (see table above). Following the UK is No. 3 Germany (111 awards), No. 4 France (70), and No. 5 Sweden (31). Next comes Japan at No. 6 with 29 Nobel Prize recipients, followed closely by Switzerland tied with Canada (28), Russia/Soviet Union (26), and Austria (22).
To put the dominance of the United States winning Nobel prizes in perspective, American laureates have received more Nobel awards (393) than the 375 prizes awarded to laureates in the next five countries combined (UK, Germany, France, Sweden, and Japan). To put the dominance of the top two countries in perspective, laureates from the US and UK together have received 527 Nobel Prizes, which is more than half (56.7%) of all the 930 individual laureates since 1901, and individuals in the top three countries (US, UK, and Germany) have together won 638 Nobel Prizes or more than two-thirds (68.6%) of all awards.
Here’s a list of Nobel Prizes per capita via Wikipedia.
3. Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East together account for only 119 Nobel Prizes by country in total (10.4% of the 1,139 total), even though those areas together represent about 85% of the world’s population.
4. Asia. Laureates in Asia alone have received 59 Nobel prizes or 5.2% of the total prizes by country affiliation with nearly 55% of the world’s population. Nobel Prizes for Japanese laureates (29) represent slightly less than half of all Asian awards, followed by India (11) and China (8). Adjusted for the huge population of Asia (more than 4 billion), the number of Asian laureates per 100 million population of 1.45 is only slightly higher than the number of African laureates per 100 million (1.42).
5. Middle East. Countries in the Middle East have received 22 Nobel Prizes, with more than half (12) of the awards going to Israeli laureates. Of the 22 Nobel laureates from the Middle East, more than half (12) received either the literature (3) or peace prize (9). For the remaining 10 Nobel Prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics, and economics, 8 of those laureates were Israeli, one is Egyptian (chemistry) and one is Turkish (chemistry).
6. Africa is the region of the world with the fewest Nobel Prizes – only 18 in total, and only 8 outside of South Africa, even though Africa has a population of about 1 billion. Adjusted for population, both the US/Canada and Western Europe have been awarded more than 100 Nobel Prizes per 100 million people, compared to only 1.41 Nobel Prizes awarded per 100 million Africans. As mentioned above, Africa (1.41) is just slightly behind Asia (1.45) for laureates per 100 million population.
7. Jewish Nobel Laureates. Remarkably, Jews and people of Jewish descent represent less than 0.20% of the world’s population, but they represent 22.4% of all Nobel laureates (208 out of 930). This year there are five Jewish Nobel laureates: Paul Milgrom (economics), Louise Gluck (literature), Roger Penrose and Andrea Ghez (physics), and Harvey Alter (medicine).
Here are the Jewish shares of the six individual Nobel Prizes:
a. Economics: 34 out of 86 or 39.5% (197.5 times the Jewish share of the population)
b. Medicine: 56 out of 222, or 25.2% (126 times the Jewish share of the population)
c. Physics: 59 out of 216 or 27.3% (136.5 times their share of the population)
d. Chemistry: 35 out of 186 or 18.8% (94 times their share of the population)
e. Literature: 15 out of 117 or 12.8% (64 times their share of the population)
f. Peace: 9 out of 107 or 8.4% (42 times their share of the population)
8. Nobel Laureates by Gender. Men have been awarded 873 Nobel Prizes compared to only 57 prizes awarded to female laureates (see chart above). Marie Curie was honored twice — she received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics and the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry — so women have received 58 Nobel prizes. By percentage, men have received 93.9% of all Nobel awards to individuals compared to 6.1%% for women, which is a male-female Nobel Prize ratio of more than 15-to-1. By field, women have received Nobel Prizes as follows:
a. Physics: 4
b. Chemistry: 7
c. Medicine: 12
d. Literature: 16
e. Peace: 17
f. Economics: 2
Note that 33 of the 57 female laureates received a Nobel Prize for either literature or peace, and those two categories together represent 58% of the total female Nobel laureates. This year, four of the 11 laureates are female: Andrea Ghez for physics, Emmanuelle Charpentier, and Jennifer A. Doudna for chemistry, and Louise Gluck for literature. The record for the most Nobel prizes awarded to women in a single year was set in 2009 when there were five female laureates out of 13 total.
9. Research Affiliations of Nobel Laureates. The table above shows the top ten research affiliations of Nobel laureates at the time of the announcement.
10. Nobel Prizes by Age. Nobel Prizes have been awarded to laureates as young as 17-year old Malala Yousafzai (Peace prize in 2014) and as old as 97-year old John Goodenough, one of the winners of last year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry and one year older than the previous oldest laureate — Arthur Ashkin who shared the 2018 Nobel prize in physics at age 96 (he just died about ago). Based on the full list of laureates by age, the chart below shows the age distribution of the 930 Nobel laureates, whose median age was 60 years old when they received the Nobel award. By individual age, there are more laureates who received a Nobel Prize at age 61 or 63 years (34 individuals for each age) than any other age, followed by ages 56 years (33 laureates) and 60 and 68 years (31 laureates). The ages of this year’s 11 Nobel laureates are 51, 55, 56, 68 (three), 71, 72, 83, 85, 89.