Unrestricted Immigration and the Dominance of Immigrant Family Members of United States Nobel Prize Winners in Science: Irrefutable Data and Exemplary Family Narratives

Andrew A. Beveridge, Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY)
Lynn Lynn Caporale , Strategic Scientific Advisor and Author

Since 1901, the Nobel Prize committee has awarded 609 prizes in chemistry, physics, and physiology or medicine. Nearly half of them (291) are from US institutions, and 181 are immigrants or the children or grandchildren of immigrants. That number may prove to be even higher, since the family histories of winners are difficult to collect systematically. This collaborative project between a sociologist and a biochemist grew out of the observation that a disproportionate share of those who developed path-breaking scientific work traced their origins to the period of unrestricted European immigration that ended in 1924. Indeed, even in the period since 1983, when US dominance of the Nobels has been at its height (155 US Nobels versus 97 to other countries), immigrants, their children and grandchildren accounted for 100. Two examples: I.I. Rabi born 1898, Rymanow, Austria-Hungary: parents brought him to New York's Lower East Side as a baby. When his father worked, he worked as a tailor. When he did not work, the family went hungry. “Had we stayed in Europe, I probably would have been a tailor.” Rabi’s contributions as an immigrant to the United States earned the Nobel Prize in Physics. Grandparents of Laureate Robert Lefkowitz were refugees who arrived in the United States speaking only Yiddish, “penniless” with little formal education. (Lefkowitz is one of 8 Nobel Laureates from the Bronx High School of Science; New York City public high schools are also disproportionately large share of Nobel winners). Collecting family histories of scientific Nobel Prize winners and combining them with early education, college, career and other information will Illuminate the sources of achievement for this group, and raise questions about the effects of immigration restrictions on the development of US science.

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 Presented in Session 153. Effects of Migration Regulation and Restriction