78 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2016
Date Written: June 5, 2016
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: 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