Consider two American children, one rich and one poor, both brilliant. The rich one is much more likely to become an inventor, creating products that help improve America’s quality of life. The poor child probably will not.
That’s the conclusion of a new study by the Equality of Opportunity project, a team of researchers led by the Stanford economist Raj Chetty. Chetty and his team look at who becomes inventors in the United States, a career path that can contribute to vast improvements in Americans’ standard of living. They find that children from families in the the top 1 percent of income distribution are 10 times as likely to have filed for a patent as those from below-median-income families, and that white children are three times as likely to have filed a patent as black children. This means, they say, that there could be millions of “lost Einsteins”—individuals who might have become inventors and changed the course of American life, had they grown up in different neighborhoods. “There are very large gaps in innovation by income, race, and gender,” Chetty told me. “These gaps don’t seem to be about differences in ability to innovate—they seem directly related to environment.”
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