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The geography of innovation and equality of opportunity

The Equality of Opportunity Project has a recent paper out called: Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The importance of Exposure to Innovation. Vox also has a summary of the findings, here.

The overall goal of the project is to “use big data to identify new pathways to upward mobility.” And in this particular study, they discover that in America there are many “lost Einsteins” – people who have the ability, but not the opportunity.

Not surprisingly, socioeconomic class, race, and gender play a significant role. Children from high-income families are 10x more likely to become inventors (measured in patents) as compared to children from low-income families.

Geography, place, and environment also matter. Where and how a child grows up has a significant impact on future outcomes. If a child grows up in a city/network that exposes them to other inventors, it increases the likelihood that they too will invent. 

Where a child grows up also has an impact on the types of inventions, even if the child move cities as an adult. For example, the study found that if a child grows up in Silicon Valley but moves to Boston as an adult, it is still more likely to author patents related to computers because that’s what it was exposed to as a child.

These associations also impact in a gender-specific way. Women are more likely to invent in a particular technology if they grow up surrounded by similar female inventors. The presence of male inventors has no impact. This makes a powerful case for better gender diversity and strong role models.

If you would like to read the full paper, click here.

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