Why so many Nobel Prize Winners are Jewish

Yitzhak-Rabin-Shimon-Peres-Nobel-Peace-Prize copy (1)

If I asked you what percentage of the world’s population was Jewish, what would you say? 

Surely no more than 10%, right? Probably not even around 5%? 

Maybe it would help if you had some kind of statistic to compare it to. Like that Jews account for around 20% of Nobel Prize laureates, for example.

Okay, so we can safely assume that 20% of the world’s population isn’t Jewish, so the number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners must be disproportionate to our global population. But just how disproportionate it is will blow your mind. 

According to the Pew Research Center, around 14 million people around the world identify as Jewish, representing just 0.2% of the global population. And yet the percentage of Nobel Prize winners is 100x this number. 

Jewish Nobel Prize Winners

So how can we make sense of this disproportionately large list of Jewish Nobel Prize laureates? Here are some theories.

Jewish education paves the way

This idea goes back thousands of years, to just after the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus in 70 CE.

When we fled Israel and spread out across Europe during the diaspora, the priest system also disappeared. What survived—and what we practice today—was Rabbinical Judaism. And due to the loosely controlled, anarchic nature of this tradition, all followers needed to be able to read the Holy Books themselves.

Judaea Capta: the Siege of Jerusalem by David Roberts
Judaea Capta: the Siege of Jerusalem by David Roberts

What this meant was that even the most lowly-born Jew had to be literate at a time when many European commoners were not.

This literacy drive gave the Jews an academic headstart hundreds of years before Europe even mass converted to Christianity, let alone started embracing academics for the lower classes.

Jewish family traditions

You might have heard this joke before:

A Jewish man is elected president. As he is giving his first speech, his mother looks on from the crowd.

“You see that man up there?” She asks the man next to her.

“You mean the president?” he responds.

“Well…. His brother’s a doctor!” She exclaims

This joke captures something fundamental to us Jews: our aspiration, our drive to achieve, and the push we get from our mothers to study hard!

This must go some way towards explaining how we can account for 20% of Nobel Prize Laureates despite only making up 0.2% of the world’s population.

If you have any other ideas, you can always let me know by leaving a comment below!

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