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Age and Great Invention

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  • Benjamin F. Jones
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    Abstract

    Great achievements in knowledge are produced by older innovators today than they were a century ago. Using data on Nobel Prize winners and great inventors, I find that the age at which noted innovations are produced has increased by approximately 6 years over the 20th Century. This trend is consistent with a shift in the life-cycle productivity of great minds. It is also consistent with an aging workforce. The paper employs a semi-parametric maximum likelihood model to (1) test between these competing explanations and (2) locate any specific shifts in life-cycle productivity. The productivity explanation receives considerable support. I find that innovators are much less productive at younger ages, beginning to produce major ideas 8 years later at the end of the 20th Century than they did at the beginning. Furthermore, the later start to the career is not compensated for by increasing productivity beyond early middle age. I show that these distinct shifts for knowledge-based careers are consistent with a knowledge-based theory, where the accumulation of knowledge across generations leads innovators to seek more education over time. More generally, the results show that individual innovators are productive over a narrowing span of their life cycle, a trend that reduces -- other things equal -- the aggregate output of innovators. This drop in productivity is particularly acute if innovators' raw ability is greatest when young.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11359.

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    Date of creation: May 2005
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    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11359

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    References

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    1. David W. Galenson, 2004. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young or Old Innovator: Measuring the Careers of Modern Novelists," NBER Working Papers 10213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Martin L. Weitzman, 1995. "Recombinant Growth," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1722, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    3. Benjamin F. Jones, 2005. "The Burden of Knowledge and the 'Death of the Renaissance Man': Is Innovation Getting Harder?," NBER Working Papers 11360, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Samuel S. Kortum, 1997. "Research, Patenting, and Technological Change," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(6), pages 1389-1420, November.
    5. David W. Galenson & Bruce A. Weinberg, 2001. "Creating Modern Art: The Changing Careers of Painters in France from Impressionism to Cubism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 1063-1071, September.
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    Cited by:
    1. Ulrich Witt & Christian Zellner, 2007. "How Firm Organizations Adapt to Secure a Sustained Knowledge Transfer," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2007-19, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Evolutionary Economics Group.
    2. Ilan Noy & Joshua Aizenman, 2007. "Prizes for Basic Research -- Human Capital, Economic Might and the Shadow of History," Working Papers 200705, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
    3. Yusuf, Shahid, 2007. "From creativity to innovation," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4262, The World Bank.
    4. Fabian Waldinger, 2009. "Peer effects in science: evidence from the dismissal of scientists in Nazi Germany," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 28518, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    5. Jacques Poot, 2007. "Demographic Change and Regional Competitiveness: The Effects of Immigration and Ageing," Population Studies Centre Discussion Papers dp-64, University of Waikato, Population Studies Centre.
    6. Fabian Waldinger, 2012. "Peer Effects in Science: Evidence from the Dismissal of Scientists in Nazi Germany," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 79(2), pages 838-861.
    7. Frosch, Katharina & Tivig, Thusnelda, 2007. "Age, human capital and the geography of innovation," Thuenen-Series of Applied Economic Theory 71, University of Rostock, Institute of Economics.
    8. Albert Banal-Estañol & Inés Macho-Stadler, 2007. "Financial Incentives in Academia: Research versus Development," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 693.07, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
    9. Myriam Mariani & Marzia Romanelli, 2006. ""Stacking" or "Picking" Patents? The Inventors' Choice Between Quantity and Quality," LEM Papers Series 2006/06, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    10. Aditi Mehta & Marc Rysman & Tim Simcoe, 2007. "Identifying the Age Profile of Patent Citations," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2007-021, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    11. Harhoff, Dietmar & Hoisl, Karin, 2006. "Everything you Always Wanted to Know About Inventors (But Never Asked): Evidence from the PatVal-EU Survey," Discussion Papers in Business Administration 1261, University of Munich, Munich School of Management.
    12. Benjamin F. Jones, 2005. "The burden of knowledge and the ‘death of the Renaissance man’: Is innovation getting harder?," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
    13. Benjamin F. Jones, 2005. "The Burden of Knowledge and the 'Death of the Renaissance Man': Is Innovation Getting Harder?," NBER Working Papers 11360, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Mariani, Myriam & Romanelli, Marzia, 2007. ""Stacking" and "picking" inventions: The patenting behavior of European inventors," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(8), pages 1128-1142, October.
    15. Katharina Frosch, 2009. "Do only new brooms sweep clean? A review on workforce age and innovation," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2009-005, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
    16. Gonzalez-Brambila, Claudia & Veloso, Francisco M., 2007. "The determinants of research output and impact: A study of Mexican researchers," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(7), pages 1035-1051, September.

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