Carpe Diem

Significant Inequality for Nobel Prizes?

I have analyzed the Nobel Prizes in the sciences: chemistry, physics, medicine and economics. Since 1901, there have been 587 Nobel prizes awarded to recipients from 32 countries. Here is my dataset. Using income data from the IRS, I was able to make this comparison of outcomes by percentiles for both: a) the share of total income earned by different percentiles of taxpayers, and b) the share of all Nobel prizes earned by different percentiles of countries:

Share of Total Income

Share of All Nobel Prizes

Top 10%



Top 25%



Top 50%



For example, the top three countries for Nobel Prizes are the US (265 awards), UK (82) and Germany (37), and these three countries together represent about 10% of all countries, and have earned 384 Nobels, or 65.4% of all prizes.

A previous analysis I did of Olympic medals shows the same outcome as well. Maybe we can learn a lesson from the Nobel awards: unequal results should be expected as the natural outcome of any competitive process, whether it is sports, science, education, or national income.

The Nobel prize winners are respected and admired, despite the gross inequality of outcome. Perhaps we should pay the same respect to the winners of our free enterprise system – the successful workers at the top of our economic ladder. Or should we maybe redisbribute the Nobels in the interest of “fairness” and “equality?”

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