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The Typical Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Is Not Old, American — Or Human

UPDATE (Oct. 7, 8 a.m.): The 2016 Nobel Peace Prize goes to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his efforts to end a civil war that has lasted more than five decades.


The typical Nobel Peace Prize winner is not a human being.

All this week, we’ve been looking at the profile of “typical” Nobel Prize winners in each category.1 Along the way, we’ve learned that male scientists win physiology/medicine Nobels at different institutions than female scientists do; that the typical physics winner is a guy named John; and that the geopolitical balance of chemistry wins appears to have shifted significantly in the past 35 years. The winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Friday, so let’s look at that.

In those previous three profiles, the U.S. has swept the “country of birth” category. But that’s not true for the Peace Prize. Yes, 19 Americans have won the Nobel Peace Prize, out of the 129 laureates since 1901, but that’s only good enough for second place. The winningest category, in this case, is “Other” — nonhuman entities such as Amnesty International and the National Dialogue Quartet — with 26 wins. And the institutions that have won this award are much younger than the human winners — 31 years on average, compared with 61. The aforementioned National Dialogue Quartet — a coalition of political parties and organizations that was crucial to establishing a functional democratic government in Tunisia — won the 2015 award at the tender age of 2. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees won one of its two awards at age 4. An organization can get more accomplished in a shorter lifespan than an individual.

The Peace Prize stands out statistically in another way, as well. It’s the Nobel prize with the most female representation.2 Of the 103 human winners, 16 percent are female. But the distribution of those winners has changed over time, as has that of the Nobel prizes as a whole. In both cases, more women have won in the 45 years since 1970 than won in the awards’ first seven decades.3 And that increase has been largely driven by the awards for peace and physiology/medicine.

BEFORE 1970 AFTER 1970
CATEGORY WOMEN MEN WOMEN MEN FEMALE SHARE OF HUMAN WINNERS
Peace 3 50 13 37 16%
Literature 6 59 8 39 13
Physiology or Medicine 1 100 11 98 6
Chemistry 3 75 1 93 2
Economic Sciences 0 2 1 73 1
Physics 2 88 0 111 1
All Awards 15 374 34 451 6
Nobel Prize winners in each category, by gender, through 2015

The Economic Sciences prize category began in 1969. Data excludes prizes awarded to nonhumans.

Source: Nobel Foundation

Footnotes

  1. We pulled data from the website of the Nobel Foundation, which has fact pages for each winner, and we focused on age at the time of winning, sex of the winners, their country of birth and their primary institutional affiliation at the time the prize was won (some had additional affiliations that we did not count). When multiple people shared a Nobel, we counted all the winners equally. Age is averaged. For the other stats, “typical” means “winningest.”

  2. Including the first female Nobel Peace Prize winner, Baroness Bertha Sophie Felicita von Suttner, nee Countess Kinsky von Chinic und Tettau, who won in 1905, and also takes home the significantly less important prize for overall Nobel winner with the longest name as listed in the database. With 73 letters, her name narrowly beat out that of fellow Peace Prize winner Paul Henri Benjamin Balluet d’Estournelles de Constant, Baron de Constant de Rebecque, who had 72.

  3. I chose this cutoff date based on a look at trends over time; in examining the data, 1970 is when things took off for women. These tallies don’t include prizes awarded this year.

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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