The Burden of Knowledge and the "Death of the Renaissance Man": Is Innovation Getting Harder?
AbstractThis paper investigates a possibly fundamental aspect of technological progress. If knowledge accumulates as technology advances, then successive generations of innovators may face an increasing educational burden. Innovators can compensate through lengthening educational phases and narrowing expertise, but these responses come at the cost of reducing individual innovative capacities, with implications for the organization of innovative activity—a greater reliance on teamwork—and negative implications for growth. Building on this "burden of knowledge" mechanism, this paper first presents six facts about innovator behaviour. I show that age at first invention, specialization, and teamwork increase over time in a large micro-data set of inventors. Furthermore, in cross-section, specialization and teamwork appear greater in deeper areas of knowledge, while, surprisingly, age at first invention shows little variation across fields. A model then demonstrates how these facts can emerge in tandem. The theory further develops explicit implications for economic growth, providing an explanation for why productivity growth rates did not accelerate through the 20th century despite an enormous expansion in collective research effort. Upward trends in academic collaboration and lengthening doctorates, which have been noted in other research, can also be explained in this framework. The knowledge burden mechanism suggests that the nature of innovation is changing, with negative implications for long-run economic growth. Copyright , Wiley-Blackwell.
Download InfoIf you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.
Bibliographic InfoArticle provided by Oxford University Press in its journal The Review of Economic Studies.
Volume (Year): 76 (2009)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
Contact details of provider:
You can help add them by filling out this form.
CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
This item has more than 25 citations. To prevent cluttering this page, these citations are listed on a separate page. reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.Access and download statisticsgeneral information about how to correct material in RePEc.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Oxford University Press) or (Christopher F. Baum).
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.