The Age of Genius

Part of our series with The Economist

The age of genius

WHERE Britain has its honours list and France its legion d’honneur, the American counterpart might well be the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius” Awards, whose latest winners were announced. Since 1981 a secret committee with a mysterious process usually pick around 25 people annually, who get $500,000 each with no strings attached. How have the types of winners changed over time? The chart below shows that women are being selected more frequently since the first winners in 1981, when only six of the 42 were women. It also highlights the period between 1985 and 1995 when the foundation was criticised for doling out awards to older people, which seemed to recognise past achievement rather than future promise. It has since reverted to leaning towards youth. Yet clever hopefuls can take comfort that the oldest winner was 82 and the youngest 18.

MacArthur Genius Awards


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