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Finding Einsteins: Reducing inequality could quadruple innovation rates

The latest research from Raj Chetty and the Equality of Opportunity Project has found disturbing disparities in innovation rates by family income level, race, and gender that have little to do with ability.

The researchers were able to study the lives of more than a million U.S. patent holders by linking patent and tax records with elementary-school test scores.

They found, for example, that children whose parents were in the top 1% income bracket become inventors at 10 times the rate of children from families with less than the median income. White youth are three times more likely than black youth to become patent holders. Less than one in five inventors are female.

Eliminating these gaps could quadruple the rate of innovation, says Chetty and team. “Improving opportunities for disadvantaged children may be valuable not just to reduce disparities but also to spur greater innovation and growth,” they write. What else can help? Exposure to innovation, say the researchers. Daquan Oliver and WeThrive, for example, are building a pipeline of entrepreneurs starting in middle school.

“We do a pretty good job at identifying the kids who are good at throwing a football or playing a trumpet,” Steve Case, AOL founder-turned-investor, told the New York Times. “But we don’t do a particularly good job of identifying the kids who have the potential of creating a phenomenal new product or service or invention.”

Case’s Rise of the Rest fund disclosed today it has raised $150 million from Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt, Howard Schultz and more to invest in entrepreneurs in Middle America.

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