From Wikipedia, the under-40 rule is based on Fields' desire that

"while it was in recognition of work already done, it was at the same time intended to be an encouragement for further achievement on the part of the recipients and a stimulus to renewed effort on the part of others."

From this statement itself, I cannot see any intention that Fields only wants to award the under-40 mathematicians. We can certainly award a 50-year-old mathematician as "an encouragement for further achievement".

In modern academic hiring postings, it is very common to see (at least widely accepted in the U.S.) the statements like

XXX is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. We consider qualified applicants for employment without regard to race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, genetic information, medical condition, disability, marital status, or protected veteran status.

Therefore, it seems to be unreasonable from both historical point of view and modern standards to put such an age bar on such an arguably "most important prize in math".

Has under-40 rule of Fields Medal ever been seriously discussed by ICM (I mean seriously by IMU/ICM committee, not just the casual discussion by a small group of mathematicians), voted on to change or at least challenged?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Fields had no intention of imposing an age limit, his remark was about reducing rivalry in assessing past work. It was only imposed in 1966, largely for the pragmatic reason of narrowing down the pool of contenders to simplify the selection process. 40 was the smallest round number that covered all medalists prior to 1966, see Barany, The Myth and the Medal and his interview. The motive only grew stronger since so the limit was never really questioned. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 29 at 4:48
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Barany himself recently advocated awarding the medals to less "established" mathematicians, as was the case in the early years before they became eligible due to the 1966 limit, see The Fields Medal should return to its roots. There were also some discussions of the medal in AMS Notices by Klainerman and Kollar. Neither suggested raising the limit, and Kollar pointed out that the Abel prize already has no limit. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 29 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ If you compare to the Nobel prize in physics or chemistry, it sometimes feels like the prize this year is given out to the great scientiest from the 70s or 80s who is most likely to die before next years ceremony. The age limit for the Fields medal implicitely enforces prices for fairly recent results. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Commented May 3 at 12:23


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