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The Fields Medal: The age and gender intersection

by on August 18, 2014

I keep an eye on the analytics for our blog, recently adding a widget on the home page that shows the top three most read posts or pages over the previous 24 hours.

There was a big spike in interest last week in a post we wrote back in February about age and the Fields Medal (often referred to as the ‘Nobel prize’ in mathematics). The reason for this became clear when the four latest recipients of the Medal were announced</on 13 August. They included Maryam Mirzakhani the first woman to be awarded the Medal since the prize's inception in 1936.

Interestingly, the press release seems to try to dilute the significance of this gender 'first' by linking it to 'national' firsts that apply to all the recipients: "each of them a notable first for the Fields Medal: the first woman and the first Iranian, Maryam Mirzakhani; the first Canadian, Manjul Bhargava; Artur Avila, the first Brazilian; and Martin Hairer, the first Austrian to win a Fields Medal".

Professor Sarah Hart of Birkbeck was interviewed on the BBC Today programme about Maryam Mirzakhani’s contribution to mathematics and why it has taken so long for the first woman to receive the Medal. Her explanation of the latter was that, with an upper limit of age 40, the intersection of age and gender is particularly challenging for women as the years that ‘count’ for the prize coincide with the time when women are most likely to have young children. Which just adds to our original argument that we couldn’t see how the age limit could be justified, even against the stated aims of the Medal.

You can hear the Today discussion via this link, the relevant interview is at 1:42:25.

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