Chief Science Correspondent
Edvard and May-Britt Moser gained international attention last week, when the two Norwegian University of Science and Technology professors were announced as the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, alongside University College London professor John O'Keefe.
The Mosers, who were each awarded one-fourth of the $1 million prize, have dedicated their careers to investigating the mechanism of the brain's navigational system. Scientific American writer Alison Abbot conveys that the Mosers, now married for 28 years, have shared a mutual love for neuroscience since their early days as undergraduates at the University of Oslo.
"Suddenly, everything sparked: romance between the two of them, intellectual curiosity and the beginnings of their mission in life - to find out how the brain generates behaviour," Abbot wrote.
It may have been 67 years since the Nobel Prize went to a married couple, but marriages between scientists are not uncommon. In her paper "Love in the Lab," University of Washington researcher Brianna Blaser says women are particularly more likely to seek out marriages within their field. Blaser notes that 70 percent of female physicists are married to other scientists and 80 percent of female mathematicians are married to other mathematicians, according to a 1992 survey. Comparatively, a 2000 survey found that 40 percent of women in all fields of academia marry other academics.
Blaser notes that historically, many women would marry other scientists to capacitate their own careers, securing (albeit lower) positions at their husbands' research institutions. And while the world has come a long way since Marie Curie's day, women are still underrepresented in the sciences, and female science Ph.D.s disproportionately face challenges in securing full-time research positions.
The number of women holding doctoral degrees more than doubled from 1973 to 2005 (21 to 51 percent). However, a 2013 report compiled by the National Science Foundation revealed that male Ph.D.s tend to attend from higher-ranked institutions during their undergraduate careers. A 2011 report published by the U.S. Census Bureau found that female STEM graduates are 50 percent less likely to gain employment in their fields of study. If employed, a female scientist will make an average of $15,000 less per year than her male colleagues, according to the same report.
May-Britt Moser is the 16th woman to win Nobel Prize in science. How many men have been chosnen for this honor? 564. That's a 35-fold gap. Let that sink in.
To be fair, the Nobel Prize was established in 1895. And 2009 has been the best year for female scientists in Nobel Prize history, with a record four women earning the honor for scientific achievement. Yet not a single woman was awarded the honor again until this year.
So what does this have to do with marrying within the sciences? Blaser suggests women may still be relying on marriage as a means of obtaining more secure positions of employment. Interestingly, however, the statistics tell another story: women's science careers are generally negatively impacted by marriage, with married women publishing fewer and fewer papers with time. This statistic holds true for both male and female scientists, but is more evident for women.
And this makes sense. Marriage creates a new world of obligations, especially if the couple chooses to have children. University of Canterbury psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa illustrates the phenomenon with a unique analogy:
"Scientists tend to 'desist' from scientific research upon marriage, just like criminals desist from crime upon marriage," Kanazawa said in a 2006 interview with Scientific American.
But the Mosers are living proof that these statistics are not a death sentence. They have defied all odds, working side by side while raising two children. They've written their success story. And, perhaps even more importantly, another woman has been recognized for achieving what seems almost impossible for women - winning the highest honor a scientist can achieve. Hopefully, Edvard and May-Britt's story will demonstrate to every aspiring female scientist - whatever her age or life goals - that she is just as capable of becoming a part of scientific history.