Belarus writer and journalist Svetlana Alexievich Photograph by Maxim Malinovsky — AFP/Getty Images

Three charts that show the gender gap among Nobel Prize winners

Oct 12, 2015

There are few greater honors than winning the Nobel Prize. The Prize is given "to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind," as Alfred Nobel, the founder of the prize, wrote in his last will in 1895.

This year, two women have received the award: China's Tu Youyou received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work on finding a malaria cure, while Belarus' Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for capturing the voice of the individual during the Soviet-era.

On one hand, two women getting the top honor is is incredible. Yet when you compare the number to the eight men that received the Prize, it shows that there is still more work to be done to close the gender gap.

Since the first Prize was awarded in 1901, women have won it 49 times, men 825 times, and organizations 26 times. Comparing just women to men, the former has received the honor 5.6% of the time.

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Not all categories of the Prize are created equal, however. Of the six categories, the Nobel Prize for literature has had the most female representation (12.5%), with the Nobel Peace Prize following closely behind (12.4%). Physics has had the least female recipients (around 1%).

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While this is indeed low, there have been drastic improvements. In the first twenty years of the Prize's existence, women only received the honor on four occasions—and Marie Curie accounted for two of those times.

The next 60 years were only slightly better: five women received the Prize during each 20-year period. It was only in the last two decades of the 20th century that progress was palpable: From 1981 through 2000, women were honored 11 times. Now, in the 21st century, women are truly making progress. Over the last 15 years, 19 women have received the honor.

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Here's hoping this progress continues—and speeds up.

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