NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Alexander M. Bell

Harvard University
1805 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

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NBER Working Papers and Publications

November 2017Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation
with Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, John Van Reenen: w24062
We characterize the factors that determine who becomes an inventor in America by using de-identified data on 1.2 million inventors from patent records linked to tax records. We establish three sets of results. First, children from high-income (top 1%) families are ten times as likely to become inventors as those from below-median income families. There are similarly large gaps by race and gender. Differences in innate ability, as measured by test scores in early childhood, explain relatively little of these gaps. Second, exposure to innovation during childhood has significant causal effects on children's propensities to become inventors. Growing up in a neighborhood or family with a high innovation rate in a specific technology class leads to a higher probability of patenting in exactly th...
 
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