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The Lifecycle of Inventors

78 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2016  

Alex Bell

Harvard University

Raj Chetty

Harvard University

Xavier Jaravel

Harvard University; Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR)

Neviana Petkova

University of Oregon

John Van Reenen

London School of Economics - Centre for Economic Performance (CEP); Stanford Graduate School of Business; Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: June 5, 2016

Abstract

We use administrative records on the population of individuals who applied for or were granted a patent between 1996 and 2014 to characterize the lives of more than 1.2 million inventors in the United States. We show that children of low-income parents are much less likely to become inventors than their higher-income counterparts (as are minorities and women). Decompositions using third grade and older test scores indicate that this income-innovation gap can largely be accounted for by differences in human capital acquisition while children are growing up. We establish the importance of "innovation exposure effects" during childhood by showing that growing up in an area with a high innovation rate in a particular technology class is associated with a much higher probability of becoming an inventor specifically in that technology class. Similarly, exposure to innovation from parents or their colleagues in specific fields is also associated with greater future innovation by children in those same technological fields. Inventors' incomes are very skewed and uncertain at the start of their career. While our analysis does not directly identify the causal mechanisms that drive innovation, our descriptive findings shed light on which types of policy tools are likely to be most effective in sparking innovation. Calibrations suggest that "extensive margin" policies drawing more talented children from low-income families into the R&D sector have great potential to improve aggregate innovation rates.

Suggested Citation

Bell, Alex and Chetty, Raj and Jaravel, Xavier and Petkova, Neviana and Van Reenen, John, The Lifecycle of Inventors (June 5, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2838018 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2838018

Alex Bell

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Raj Chetty

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Xavier Jaravel (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) ( email )

579 Serra Mall at Galvez St.
Stanford, CA 94305-6015
United States

Neviana Petkova

University of Oregon ( email )

Lundquist College of Business
1208 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

John Michael Van Reenen

London School of Economics - Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) ( email )

Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom
+44 20 7955 6976 (Phone)
+44 20 7955 6848 (Fax)

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) ( email )

7 Ridgmount Street
London, WC1E 7AE
United Kingdom
+44 20 7240 6740 (Phone)
+44 20 7240 6136 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

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