America has long been recognized as a global leader in innovation and inventors. Google (Alphabet), eBay, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Apple are all examples of U.S. based companies that leverage technology and creativity to change the world as we know it. Others like Tesla, Intel and Monsanto have similarly advanced societies through science and engineering. However, according to a recent study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, America has only scratched the surface when it comes to realizing its potential in invention and ingenuity. And the implications these findings have on our future as a nation are tremendous.
A Generation of Lost Einsteins
The study, recently published, involved a collaborative investigation conducted by economic experts from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, the London School of Economics, and the U.S. Treasury in an effort to see which individuals might be more likely to become inventors. A total of 1.2 million inventors were identified based on patent applications in the U.S. between 1996 and 2014 for this purpose. The researchers then examined the inventors’ gender, race and socioeconomic class as potential “predictors” of their future life course. The results were both incredible and disturbing. Based on their analysis, the following observations were made:
- Children born to families in the top 1 percent economically were 10 times more likely to become inventors when compared to those born to families at or below median incomes
- White children were 3 times more likely to become inventors that Black children
- Male inventors outnumbered female inventors by 4-to-1
- Only 1 out of every 4 children appeared to realize their potential as an inventor
It’s Nurture More than Nature
The knee-jerk reaction in response to these findings might be that the children who failed to become inventors were less adept academically. However, this is not necessarily true, according to the researchers. In fact, when mathematics test scores were examined in 2.5 million students in the New York area, lower performance accounted for less than a third of the gap between inventors and non-inventors in later life. Guess what had a larger impact? The actual living environment where the child grew up. By comparing geographic areas with high and low rates of inventions, children’s tendency to become inventors based on where they had lived was also examined. These finding revealed some impressive insights as well.
- Children in high invention areas were significantly more likely to become inventors compared to children from low invention regions
- Children exposed to specific technological inventions were most likely to invent in those same categories of innovation
- Girls exposed to female inventors were more likely to become inventors when compared to girls exposed to male inventors only
- Children moving from a low invention rate area to a high one increased their likelihood of becoming an inventor by as much as 50 percent
No Time to Waste – Reinventing Children’s Future
The implications of the study’s findings are more significant than might be realized. Not only do the results indicate lost opportunities for millions of students over the last generation, but this could also have a profound impact on America’s future. According to a Pew Research Center report, ethnic minorities will represent more than half the U.S. population by the year 2050. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts this will happen by 2042. Since it will take time to reverse current trends, solutions need to be pursued now if America’s leadership in innovation is to continue. Tomorrow’s inventors are being born today, and the opportunity for positive change is now.
Solutions for Success – Early Interventions Are Essential to Future Inventors
The researchers in the study highlighted the importance of early childhood experiences in relation to the socioeconomic, ethnic, and gender gaps among students becoming inventors in later life. In fact, differences in these pursuits and academic performance exist by the time students reach third grade. All children, especially those identified in the current study, need to be empowered and supported in areas of technology, innovation and invention. This can be achieved through inclusive activities like mentoring programs, school projects addressing real-life problems, and the use of technologies in the classroom. These experiences, if enjoyed early in life, can make all the difference in the world for a child and for America’s leadership in innovation.