Where Are All The Smart People?

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If you’re smart, the right colour, go to the right schools, live in the right areas and have friends like you then there’s a good chance that you’ll make it.

You’re likely to be an innovator and job creator and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

However, if you’re female, not ‘white’, working class  – even if you’re the smartest person of a generation – then the chances are you MAY NOT make it.

Research published by a team of leading economists from the Equality of Opportunity Project  studied the lives of one million inventors in the US.  (Inventors because they are the drivers of innovation and it’s innovation that drives economies, and propels humankind forward.)

By studying patent application data from 1996 through 2014 and linking patent holders to their  income tax returns, the research team was able to track inventors’ lives from birth through adulthood to understand who is inventing things and where they come from.

Observations

Among well off families, children who perform highly on math tests are much more likely to make successful inventions than other children from well off families that do not perform well.

Among low-income families, high-scoring and low-scoring children alike are about equally unlikely to become inventors — suggesting that it isn’t a lack of aptitude that’s holding back poor kids; it’s that aptitude alone isn’t enough.

Children are more likely to grow up to be inventors when they grow up in cities with other inventors.

Girls are likely to grow up to be innovators only if their city includes a a strong cohort of female innovators, underscoring the importance of role models and self-image.

Conclusions

Children from high income families are ten times more likely to become inventors than children from low income families.

If girls were exposed to female inventors during childhood at the same rate that boys are to male inventors, the gender gap in innovation would fall by half

Moral

So, a large number of children who have the capacity to grow up to be inventors end up not doing so.  There are many “lost Einsteins” – people who would have had highly impactful inventions had they been exposed to careers in innovation as children. Not surprisingly,  those that ‘make it’ are whiter, more male, and from more economically privileged  families than non-inventors.  Children born to parents in the top one percent of the  income distribution are ten times more likely to become inventors than those  born to families with below-median incomes.

It’s probably obvious:  Improving opportunities for upward mobility may increase innovation and economic growth and benefit all of humankind not the privileged few.

 

Comments 2

Mason Edwards on Tuesday, 05 December 2017 16:30

A little bit sad here but hopefully things will improve as you say.

A little bit sad here but hopefully things will improve as you say.
Fionan Murray on Tuesday, 05 December 2017 16:52

Thanks Mason. Things are getting better...definitely. I read a report yesterday that showed that 80% of our kids are now going onto 3rd level irrespective of the schools they go to. Education, opportunities, networks (like ours!) where we support people for their abilities, their smarts and their hard work will generate new Einsteins and world leaders. Whats profound about the research from the Equality of opportunity project is the fact that it highlights that we could have lost great investors, great minds, great leaders and potential that could build great businesses and innovations that could change humankind for the better - because they didn't get the opportunity.

Thanks Mason. Things are getting better...definitely. I read a report yesterday that showed that 80% of our kids are now going onto 3rd level irrespective of the schools they go to. Education, opportunities, networks (like ours!) where we support people for their abilities, their smarts and their hard work will generate new Einsteins and world leaders. Whats profound about the research from the Equality of opportunity project is the fact that it highlights that we could have lost great investors, great minds, great leaders and potential that could build great businesses and innovations that could change humankind for the better - because they didn't get the opportunity.
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