Looking back at the remarkable history of the Nobel Prize from 1901–2016 using maps, charts and tables

Mark J. Perry
Oct 14, 2016 · 7 min read

The maps above showing Nobel prizes in regions around the world were inspired by similar ones 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 the Nobel website:

874 Laureates and 26 organizations have been awarded the Nobel Prize between 1901 and 2015. A small number of individuals and organizations have been honored more than once, which means than 870 individuals and 23 unique organizations have received the Nobel Prize in total.

Adding the 11 Nobel laureates for 2016, there has now been a total of 881 individuals (833 men and 48 women) and 23 organizations from 74 different countries who have received a Nobel prize from 1901 to 2016. Looking back on the 116-year history of Nobel Prizes, here are my top ten most interesting observations about Nobel Prizes and the 881 Nobel laureates based on the maps above, and the underlying data for laureates by country, gender, religion, research affiliation, and age.

1. Top Ten Nobel Countries. The United States is by far the world’s leading country for receiving Nobel prizes with an astonishing 362 total awards over the last 116 years (an average of more than 3 per year, even though there were some years without Nobel prizes, mostly during WWI and WWII), and almost three times more than the second-highest ranked country — the United Kingdom, with 123 awards. Following the UK is №3 Germany (107 awards), №4 France (68), and №5 Sweden (31). Next comes №6 Russia/Soviet Union (27), №7 Switzerland (26), №8 for Japan and Canada tied at 25. Rounding out the top ten countries is Austria at 21 awards (see table above).

To put the Nobel dominance of the United States in perspective, it has received more awards than the next 5 countries combined (UK, Germany, France, Sweden, and Russia/Soviet Union). To put the dominance of the top three countries in perspective, the US, UK and Germany together have received 592 Nobel prizes, which is more than half (54.3%) of all awards since 1901.

2. Western Countries Dominate Nobel Awards. The top map above shows the number of Nobel prizes awarded to individuals and organizations in 8 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 1,090 entries because some Nobel laureates are listed for more than one country when the official Nobel website mentions multiple countries in relation to the laureate — usually the country of birth and the country where the laureate resides when the prize is awarded.

For example, the two laureates this year for Economics — Bengt Homstrom and Oliver Hart — are listed both for their country of birth (Finland and the UK, respectively) and for the United States, where both of them spent most of their academic careers and where both are currently working.

One of the most interesting observations about the top map above is that it shows that two areas: a) US and Canada (387 awards) and b) Western Europe (482 awards) together represent the large majority of Nobel prizes at 869, nearly 80% of the total number since 1901! If we add Australia and New Zealand, the share of Nobel prizes awarded to laureates in Western countries increases to more than 81%. 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 now represent 80% of the world map.

3. Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East together have been awarded only 118 Nobel prizes in total (less than 11% of all prizes), even though those areas together represent about 85% of the world’s population.

4. Asia. Separately, laureates and organization in Asia alone have been awarded 58 Nobel prizes, or slightly more 5% of the total prizes with nearly 55% of the world’s population. Nobel prizes for Japanese laureates (25) represent close to half of all Asian awards, followed by China (12) and India (11). 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 Israel. Of the 22 Nobel laureates from the Middle East, more than half (12) received the literature (4) and Peace prize (8). For the remaining 10 Nobel prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics and economics, 8 of those laureates were Israeli and one was from Egypt (chemistry) and one is Turkish (chemistry).

6. Africa is the region of the world with the fewest Nobel prizes — only 17 in total, and only 6 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. Interestingly, Jews and people of Jewish descent represent less than 0.20% of the world’s population, but they have been awarded about 20% of all Nobel prizes, and the following shares of the six individual Nobel prizes:

a. Economics: 41% (more than 205 times their share of the population)

b. Medicine: 28% (more than 140 times their share of the population)

c. Physics: 26% (more than 130 times their share of the population)

d. Chemistry: 19% (more than 95 times their share of the population)

e. Literature: 13% (more than 65 times their share of the population)

f. Peace: 9% (more than 45 times their share of the population)

8. Nobel Laureates by Gender. Men have been awarded 833 Nobel prizes compared to only 48 female laureates (see chart above). By percentage, men have received 94.6% of all Nobel awards to individuals compared to 5.4% for women, which is a male-female Nobel prize ratio of 17.4-to-1. By field, women have received Nobel prizes as follows (total sums to 49 because Marie Curie received Nobel prizes in both physics and chemistry):

a. Physics: 2

b. Chemistry: 4

c. Medicine: 12

d. Literature: 14

e. Peace: 16

f. Economics: 1

Note that 30 of the 48 female laureates received a Nobel prize for either literature or peace, and those two categories represent 62.5% of the total awards. Also, all 11 Nobel laureates this year are men. The last year all prizes (9) were awarded to men was 2012. In 2015, there were 8 men and 2 women; in 2014, 11 men and 2 women; and in 2013, 11 men and 1 women.

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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 90-year old Leonid Hurwicz (Economics, 2007). Based on the full list of laureates by age, the chart below shows the age distribution of the 881 Nobel laureates, whose average age was 59.5 years old when the prize was awarded. By individual age, there were more laureates who received a Nobel Prize at age 61 years (33 individuals) than any other age, followed by ages 56 years and 63 years (32 laureates each).

Special thanks goes to Olivier Ballou, AEI’s graphic design director, for creating the two maps above.


First published at AEIdeas on October 13, 2016.

American Enterprise Institute

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Mark J. Perry

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Economics professor, AEI scholar and blogger

American Enterprise Institute

Cherish freedom? The power of enterprise? Opportunity for all? It’s these core beliefs that drive the scholars and staff at the American Enterprise Institute.

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