How Much Are Nobel Prizes Worth?

The Nobel Peace Center, Oslo, Norway.
rrodrickbeiler / iStock.com

If you happen to win a Nobel Prize this year, you’ll receive a gold medal and the admiration and respect of your peers and just about everyone else in the world — plus a big stack of cash. 

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The monetary prize associated with the most distinguished intellectual accolade in the world has changed quite a bit over the decades, with some winners making out much, much better than others. When the jackpot was biggest, the winners took home four times the amount of those who won in the years when the purse was thinnest. 

In 2021, the winners in the categories of physics, chemistry, and physiology/medicine have already been announced. The winner in literature will be disclosed on Oct. 7, the Nobel Peace Prize winner will be revealed on Oct. 8, and the winner in the economics category will be announced on Oct. 11. 

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So, What’s a Nobel Prize Worth?

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The award for the 2021 Nobel Prize is 10 million Swedish kronor. At the current exchange rate, that’s about $1,135,384 — a hefty sum, even for the best and brightest minds in the world. A handful of laureates have won in years where the prize was worth even more — but only in the last three decades.

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It’s Common For More Than One Winner to Split the Cash

It’s not at all unusual for two or even three laureates to share a Nobel Prize and divvy up the cash that goes with it — and it’s not always an even split. This year, for example, three laureates shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. 

Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann each split half the money — one-quarter of the full $1.14 million, or $285,000 each — “for the physical modeling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming,” according to the official Nobel Prize site. Giorgio Parisi took home the other 50% — $570,000 — “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.”

Between 1901-2020, 603 Nobel Prizes were awarded to 962 laureates. 352 laureates won individually, 143 prizes were shared by two winners, and 108 were shared by three.

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Who Determines the Size of the Prize?

Born in 1823, Alfred Nobel came from a long line of acclaimed academics and scientists — and he continued in that tradition, to say the least. The Swedish inventor, businessman, engineer, chemist, and philanthropist held more than 300 patents. It was his invention of dynamite, however, that made him one of the richest people in the world.

His will might just be the most famous final testament in history. Upon his death in 1896, a stunned world learned that Nobel had decreed that nearly all of his vast fortune was to be invested in “safe securities” to fund “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” 

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His shellshocked family fought to keep his massive 31 million kroner endowment for themselves, but after five years, his would-be heirs lost their legal battle and Nobel’s will was carried out when the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901.

While the concept of “safe securities” has changed over the last 120 years, the fund’s distribution philosophy has not. To make sure that the money never runs out, laureates receive bigger prizes in years that the fund does well and smaller prizes when it does not. 

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Historically Speaking, Now is a Good Time to Win a Nobel Prize

The original Nobel Prize recipients in 1901 went home $17,451 richer — that’s about $561,649.14 in today’s money. The prize began losing value right away until it was worth less than half of its original value in 1917. By 1920, the prize was worth less than 30% of the inflation-adjusted value of the original pot in 1901. 

Things picked back up again, and by the end of the decade, it had reached 50% of its original value again. It briefly topped 60% in the mid-1930s before cratering back under 30% during World War II. It remained at or below one-third of its original value through the 1960s. 

Incredibly, the Nobel Prize award wouldn’t reach 100% of its original value until exactly 90 years had passed in 1991. It then went up and up and up until it peaked at 144% of its 1901 value in 2001. Since 1991, the prize has dipped below 100% of its original value only five times — consecutive years between 2012-2016 — but never fell below 97%.

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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