Unleashing America’s Innovation Potential


America loves innovation – and generally has done pretty well at it. But to truly unleash the innovation potential of America, there are several important gaps that still need to be addressed.  In fact, there is an untapped reserve of inventiveness that could quadruple the rate of American innovation, essentially hiding in plain sight. 

According to recent analysis from Harvard, London School of Economics, and MIT professors, the rate of inventiveness is distributed highly unequally.  If women, minorities, and children from low-income families invented at the same rate as white men from high-income (top 20%) families, the rate of innovation in America would quadruple. While their analysis does show gaps closing, the rate of closure is extremely slow, the gender gap taking 118 years at the current rate for example. 

The numbers are stark and point to systemic problems of opportunity.  White children are three times more likely to become inventors than black children, and women represent only 18% of inventors. The researchers were able to control for ability as well, showing that youth test scores do correlate with inventiveness later in life – but only if the child comes from a high-income family. This can be chalked up to the notion that innovation takes both a great idea and access to capital. One cannot really be achieved without the other.

The research team also found regional differences in innovation. People in areas where innovation tends to be concentrated – the West Coast and Northeast for example – were much more likely to be inventors. Exposure matters to get kids on the path to innovation.

Social welfare programs are often framed in terms of reducing inequality, but perhaps it is time to consider how to reduce the innovation unbalance, effectively unleashing more of America’s innovation potential.

Greg VanderPol