The Nobel Prize is awarded to extraordinary individuals who accomplish work in their lifetime that demonstrates an effort to benefit humankind. In 2019, 50% of Nobel Prize winners from the U.S. were foreign-born. These four outstanding individuals won the Nobel in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, and Economic Sciences. Since the first award was presented in 1901, 34% of all winners from the United States were immigrants.
Each year, the Nobel Prize is awarded to outstanding individuals in the fields of Economics, Physics, Medicine or Physiology, Chemistry, Literature, and Peace. Unlike in prior years, in 2018, none of the American winners were foreign-born individuals who immigrated permanently to the United States or were in the United States when they received the award. But the United States did play an important role in their formation; nine of the twelve 2018 Nobel Laureates were either students, teachers, or research fellows at U.S. institutions of higher education at some point in their lives, even if they were not born in the United States and did not immigrate here permanently. Three of the 2018 Nobel Laureates were foreign-born academics who spent considerable time at U.S. institutions. Originally from Canada, Dr. Donna Strickland was on staff at Princeton University and at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory after earning her doctoral degree at the University of Rochester. There she worked with her fellow 2018 Laureate in Physics, French-born Professor Dr. Gerard Mourou. Finally there is Japanese-born immunologist, Dr. Tasuku Honjo, who was a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Institution of Washington and then the U.S. National Institutes of Health for seven years and was later elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences as a foreign associate.
Their stories are the stories of dozens of foreign-born Nobel Prize Laureates, and other gifted scientists who came to the United States to follow their dreams of knowledge and of genuine contribution to the wellbeing of humankind.
See the full report here.
2018 Nobel Laureates: Dr. Honjo, Dr. Mourou, and Dr. Strickland
Immigrants notably perform award winning research at U.S. institutions, in addition to earning PhDs at these institutions. To further understand the impact of immigrants on institutions of higher education, the IIR conducted an analysis of the publicly available Survey of Doctorate Recipients, which is a longitudinal biennial survey conducted by the National Science Foundation to provide demographic and career information about individuals with a research doctoral degree in a science, engineering, or health field (STEM) from a U.S. academic institution. As the figure below depicts, in 1993 about 19 percent of all doctorates were awarded to immigrants, this number went up to about 24 percent in 2001 and in 2013, the number jumped to 29 percent. Doctorates in science awarded to immigrants went from about 17 percent in 1993 to about 20 percent in 2001 and 28 percent in 2013. Doctorates in computer science and mathematics awarded to immigrants underwent the largest increase, going from almost 28 percent in 1993 to about 33 percent in 2001 and more than 48 percent in 2013. For more details on these findings, download the brief below.
Oliver Hart was celebrating his birthday when he received the early morning call informing him that he won the Nobel Prize this year. Excited about winning the prize after being nominated a few times, he hugged his wife, woke his son up, and called fellow Nobel laureate Bengt Holmstrom for a chat.
Both Hart and Holmstrom are economists and share this year’s Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Hart was born in the United Kingdom and is a professor at Harvard University, while Holmstrom was born in Finland and is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They won jointly based on their work on contract theory. Both are immigrants to the United States, but not the only ones among this year’s US Nobel laureates. This year’s US Nobel laureates dominated the headlines not only for winning seven of the eleven prizes given worldwide, but because six of the winners are immigrants to the United States working at US educational institutions. In addition to Hart and Holmstrom, four other US immigrants won Nobel Prizes in chemistry and physics. They were all born in the United Kingdom: J. Fraser Stoddart in chemistry; David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane, and J. Michael Kosterlitz in physics. This trend demonstrations the incredible influence the US educational system has in producing environments that encourage potential Nobel laureates.
Since the Nobel Prize was established in the early 1900s, about 40 percent of the more than 900 prizes have gone to Americans. Additionally, about 35 percent of all US Nobel laureates have been immigrants to the United States. Eighty percent of those individuals worked at universities at the time of winning the Nobel Prize. Immigrant scholars have been winning Nobel Prizes alongside their US born counterparts since the creation of the Nobel Prize. For a breakdown of the data see Chart 1.
Source: Data on Nobel Prize laureates collected by the IIR from publicly available data. See www.nobelprize.org.
Additionally, in the last 10 years there has been a mix of US born and immigrant Nobel laureates except in 2012 when all the winners were US born (see chart below).
Source: Data on Nobel Prize laureates collected by the IIR from publicly available data. See www.nobelprize.org.
The majority of Nobel laureates have come from elite educational institutions in the United States. For example, this year’s winners are faculty members at Harvard University, Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Northwestern University, University of Washington, and Brown University. An examination of the departments to which the Nobel laureates belong reveals diverse faculty pools. For example, in the economics departments of three elite universities – Princeton, Harvard, and MIT - from which a faculty member has won a Nobel Prize in the last two years, we notice that immigrants make up significant, and in the case of Princeton, the majority, of the departments, as shown in the chart below.
Source: Data on economics departments' faculty information collected by the IIR from publicly available data.
Immigrants to the United States play a significant role in the educational landscape of the country. According to a study by education researchers Zeng Lin, Richard Pearce, and Weirong Wang that compared research on immigrant faculty members, in 2000 15.4 percent of faculty members were born outside the country and in 2004 that number increased to 22.1 percent. In 2004, the foreign-born population in the United States was 11.7 percent. The authors argue that this trend shows a shift from a need for immigrant physical labor to immigrant intellectual labor.
The study shows that US born and immigrant faculty members are equal with each other in terms of teaching and research in the liberal arts and social sciences, but immigrant researchers are more likely to work within the applied sciences. Thirty-five percent of immigrants research in the applied sciences, compared to 25 percent for US born faculty researchers. US born faculty members hold more tenured positions than immigrant faculty members – about 50 percent to about 44 percent, respectively. However, immigrant faculty members on average publish more journal articles than US born members. Differences in publication patterns between immigrant faculty members and US born faulty suggest higher productivity among immigrant faculty in the United States. This pattern requires more nuanced analysis, but suggests generational differences in expectation for higher rate of publication among younger faculty members.
Karen Webber, a professor at the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia, examined differences in research productivity between US born and immigrant faculty members and concluded that the production of research depends on workload and tenure status. Those occupying junior positions, or non-tenured positions, produce more scholarship, to possibly obtain a tenured position because the production of knowledge is connected to promotion within the academic world.
Individuals from all over the world have come to the United States to study at its educational institutions, which speaks to the global influence the country’s academic world has on knowledge production, education, and innovation. In an interview posted on the Nobel Prize website, physicist F. Duncan M. Haldane credits his migration to the United States to the openness to innovation within the US educational system.
Highly skilled immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs have been paramount in contributing to the United States, as well as to all humanity. The Nobel Prize rewards their immeasurable impact. Previous research has indicated foreign-born Nobel Prize Laureates’ dedication to excellence. This research examines how immigrant Nobel Prize Laureates (1901-2013) have allowed for the legacy of Alfred Nobel to live on through his endowment. “Prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind."
Included in the 2015 Nobel Prize awards, three of the eleven Nobel Laureates were immigrants to the United States: Dr. William Campbell, Dr. Angus Deaton, and Dr. Aziz Sancar. This representation of foreign-born Nobel Prize Laureates is far from an anomaly. Foreign-born laureates have contributed since the inception of the Nobel Prizes. From South African-born physicist Allan Cormack’s development of computer assisted tomography (CT), to Russian-born scientist Selman Waksman’s discovery of streptomycin (the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis), these contributions are essential to U.S. participation in furthering innovation. Forty-two percent of Nobel Prize Laureates are either born or have immigrated to the United States (see Figure 1). Of the 378 Nobel Prize Laureates who received a Prize while in the United States, 30.7% were born abroad.
Our Huffington Blog post, Immigrants to America, Alfred Nobel, Mark Zuckerberg and the 2015 Nobel Prize, demonstrates that Foreign Born US Nobel Laureates exhibit excellence and innovation. They have set the bar high for today’s extremely successful entrepreneurs and mega-philanthropists, including Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett. The work of these philanthropists also resonates with the Nobel bequest. These philanthropists also recognize the value of immigration reform, one that will allow future immigrants to sustain the contribution of American immigrants to the legacy of Alfred Nobel. As this project proceeds, we will be posting updates and research briefs. You can find our recent Huffington Blog post on this topic here.
As part of our research on the accomplishments of highly-skilled, foreign-born academics in the United States, we found that foreign-born scientists and engineers are over-represented among U.S. Nobel Laureates. From 1901-2013, of all the countries in the world, the United States, at 42.4%, receives the highest proportion of Nobel Prizes. Moreover, 30.7% of these U.S. awarded Nobel Prizes are garnered by persons who immigrated to the United States. For more details on these findings, download the Immigrant Nobel Prize Laureates Research Brief below.