Despite the proliferation of apps and concerns about a robot takeover of the labor market, U.S. productivity growth just isn’t very strong these days.
The exact reasons for weak productivity growth aren’t fully understood by economists, but a jump in innovation would seem likely to help increase it.
Getting such a boost, of course, is easier said than done. Most policies that seek to increase innovation in the United States are focused on getting as much out of current innovators as possible.
But because the first seeds of new innovation sprout in many different ways perhaps policymakers should instead be focused on creating more innovators. New research shows that the key to increasing the ranks of innovators may reside in the childhoods of potential innovators.
The paper takes a look at the background of innovators, as measured by individuals who filed for a patent between 1996 and 2014. (An assumption here being that patents are good indicator of innovation.)
The authors have access to administrative data collected by the federal government on these patent holders that lets the economists take a look at the patent holders’ family backgrounds.
Unsurprisingly, children from low-income backgrounds are much less likely to end up getting a patent than children from high-income backgrounds. Patent holders also are more likely to be white and male.
What explains these two gaps?
The economists seek to answer this question by looking at the standardized test scores for all individuals who passed through the New York City public school system from 1989 and 2009. The test scores cover from the 3rd grade to the 8th grade.
By linking this data with the data on patent holders, the economists can see how much of this innovator gap is related to a test score gap.
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