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Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation
Alex Bell, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, John van Reenen
Quarterly Journal of Economics, forthcoming
December 2017

Innovation is widely viewed as the engine of economic growth. As a result, many policies have been proposed to spur innovation, ranging from tax cuts to investments in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of such policies is unclear because we know relatively little about the factors that induce people to become inventors. Who are America’s most successful inventors and what can we learn from their experiences in designing policies to stimulate innovation?

We study the lives of more than one million inventors in the United States using a new de-identified database linking patent records to tax and school district records. Tracking these individuals from birth onward, we identify the key factors that determine who becomes an inventor, as measured by filing a patent.1 Our results shed light on what policies can be most effective in increasing innovation, showing in particular that increasing exposure to innovation among women, minorities, and children from low-income families may have greater potential to spark innovation and growth than traditional approaches such as reducing tax rates.

 

The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of the Treasury, or the National Institutes of Health.

Data

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Online Data Table 1a
Inventors in America: Commuting Zone Innovation Rates by Childhood Commuting Zone, Gender, and Parent Income

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Online Data Table 1b
Origins of Inventors: Innovation Rates by Childhood State, Gender, and Parent Income

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Online Data Table 2a
Careers of Inventors: Innovation Rates by Current Commuting Zone, Gender, Year of Birth, and Age

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Online Data Table 2b
Careers of Inventors: Innovation Rates by Current State, Gender, Year of Birth, and Age

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Online Data Table 3
Innovation Rates by College

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Online Data Table 4a
Income Distributions of Inventors by Year and Age

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Online Data Table 4b
Income Distributions of Highly-Cited Inventors by Age

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Inventors in America: All datasets

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Replication Code and Datasets

Replication Code and Datasets