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Horowitz: Broadening Opportunity Pays Off for our Economy

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Rob Horowitz

Providing more young Americans to exposure to innovation will not only ensure that our nation gets closer to realizing its promise of-equality of opportunity for all; it will also provide a significant boost to our economy.  That is the conclusion of a recent study by the Equality of Opportunity Project, an initiative led by three noted economists: Stanford’s Ross Chetty, Brown’s John Friedman and Harvard’s Nathaniel Hendren.

The study examines the lives of more than one million inventors in the United States to determine who becomes one and why.  According to the study “Children from high income families are ten times more likely to become inventors than children from low income families.” These stark disparities are not mainly a result of potential for math and science excellence as measured by third grade test scores. While it is the case that excelling in math and science is a significant factor in whom among children from high income families will go on to be an inventor, children from low income families with high potential to excel in math and science are still highly unlikely to become inventors.

The study’s most optimistic finding is that by simply providing low income students more exposure to successful inventors and the possibility of becoming one through school programs and in other ways a good part of this gap can close. As the study authors assert, “Children who grow up in areas with more inventors – and are thereby more exposed to innovation while growing up – are much more likely to become inventors themselves.”  This is the case after controlling for other factors such as family income.   Right now, children from low income families have far less exposure to inventors in their own families, neighborhoods, and schools than children from high income families.

 Similarly, the study finds that if young women were exposed more regularly to successful women inventors the still considerable gap between the number of men and the number of women who become inventors would be cut in half.

Giving a broader range of youth exposure to successful inventors would provide a large economic boost, say the study’s authors.” If women, minorities, and children from low-income families were to invent at the same rate as white men from high-income (top 20%) families, the rate of innovation in America would quadruple.”

Given the outsized importance of innovation to generating economic growth, it is time to use our schools and after-school programs to introduce a broader range of our youth to inventors-- with a special emphasis on  low-income youth-- and to do so systematically.

The potential pay-off both in the realization of individual potential and in broader economic benefits is enormous.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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