The Nobel Prize statistics are dour reading for women, who’ve been awarded only one of every 20 prizes. And while the numbers are slowly improving, the December 10 prize ceremony will be an all-male affair for the second straight year. The Nobel Prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics are awarded in Sweden, and the one for peace in Norway. While the number of women Nobel laureates has risen in recent decades – from just four between 1901, the first year of the prizes, and 1920 to 19 between 2001 and 2017 – the 48 women crowned over the years represent just 5 per cent of the 896 people honoured, excluding organisations. The statistics vary depending on the discipline: the economics prize has been by far the most unattainable for women. The literature prize remains largely a male domain, while peace does somewhat better. Of the five original Nobel Prizes created in the 1895 will of Swedish industrialist and philanthropist Alfred Nobel – the economics prize was established in 1968 – those for physics and chemistry are the most “misogynist”, having gone to just two and four women, respectively. Paradoxically, the only woman to have ever won two Nobel Prizes, Marie Curie, was honoured in these two disciplines in 1903 and 1911. “We are disappointed, looking in a larger perspective, that there aren’t more women who’ve been awarded,” admits Goran Hansson, the permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences which selects the physics, chemistry and economics laureates. He insists “there is not any substantial male chauvinism bias in the committees” that choose the winners, four of which (medicine, chemistry, peace and literature) are currently led by women. The reason women are so poorly represented in the science fields, he says, is because laboratory doors were closed to women for so long. The list of winners of the medicine prize, awarded by the prestigious Karolinska Institute, is indeed a bit more encouraging: 12 women out of 214 laureates, or 5.6 per cent. The economics prize ranks at the bottom. Just one woman has received the nod since it was first awarded in 1969: Elinor Ostrom of the US in 2009. “You noticed, it is right, that we are all white men. We are also all old white men, and all of these projects have been going on for 30 years or longer,” the 2017 Nobel economics laureate Richard Thaler said Thursday in Stockholm. And what about literature? Fourteen writers of the second sex have received the nod, or 12.3 per cent of literature laureates. Here however, the trend is changing at a brisker pace: 36 per cent of those honoured since 2007 have been women. “Things are going in the right direction. That is not to say that the statistics can’t get better. They can and they will,” said permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy that awards the literature prize, Sara Danius. “At the same time, it is worth recalling that the Swedish Academy does not strive to obtain good statistics for the sake of good statistics. The only thing the Academy cares about is quality,” wrote Danius. The peace prize is the most favourable to women: 16 women laureates out of 104 people awarded (15.4 per cent). But that is still far from parity. According to Olav Njolstad, the director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, those numbers reflect “the place of women in society in the 20th century”. Six women have won the peace prize in the past 15 years. “In the long run, it’s of course important that we have gone from a committee dominated by men to a committee where we are about 50-50 (men/women),” Njolstad said.