Breaking down barriers for underrepresented kids could quadruple America’s pool of inventors

Gaps in opportunity for talented kids with low socioeconomic status don’t just hold back poor, female, black, or Latino children as individuals they also impose potentially enormous losses to society as a whole. That’s the conclusion of groundbreaking empirical research published today by a team of leading economists from the Equality of Opportunity Project that Vox got an exclusive early look at.

A unique combination of data sets for the first time lets us see more about who is — and, crucially, is not — able to successfully pursue a career as an inventor, and thus learn more about what’s arguably the biggest mystery in all of economics.

Nothing matters more for economics and human living standards than innovation. It’s innovation that has allowed us to cure diseases and extend life spans. It’s innovation that has drastically increased the pace of transportation and communication, and ultimately it’s innovation that has let most people do high-wage work rather than subsistence agriculture.

What the researchers found is fascinating. They discovered that both an actual ability to invent things and early life exposure to a culture of innovation and opportunity are crucial to driving inventions. Ability itself is, of course, unevenly distributed. But in the United States, so is opportunity — with huge numbers of highly skilled children from unfavorable backgrounds seemingly locked out of pathways to careers as inventors.

“High-scoring black kids and Hispanic kids go into innovation at incredibly low rates,” says Raj Chetty, a Stanford economist who led the research team. “There must be many ‘lost Einsteins’ in those groups” — children who appear to have been similarly able at a young age to their white and Asian peers but who never got a chance to deploy their Read More Here