The Agglomeration of U.S. Ethnic Inventors

by William R. Kerr

Overview — The higher concentration of immigrants in certain cities and occupations has long been noted. There has been very little theoretical or empirical work to date, however, on the particular agglomeration of U.S. immigrant scientists and engineers. This scarcity is disappointing given the scale of these ethnic contributions and the importance of innovation to regional economic growth. William R. Kerr's study contributes to our empirical understanding of agglomeration and innovation by documenting patterns in the city-level agglomeration of ethnic inventors (e.g., Chinese, Indian) within the United States from 1975 through 2007. It is hoped that the empirical platform developed in this study provides a foothold for furthering such analyses. Key concepts include:

  • Ethnic scientists and engineers are an important and growing contributor to U.S. technology development. The Chinese and Indian ethnicities, in particular, are now an integral part of U.S. invention in high-tech sectors.
  • The data collected and analyzed in this research document with greater detail than previously available the powerful growth in U.S. Chinese and Indian inventors during the 1990s. These ethnic inventors also became more spatially concentrated across U.S. cities.
  • The combination of such growth and concentration helps stop and reverse long-term declines in overall inventor agglomeration evident in the 1970s and 1980s.

Author Abstract

The ethnic composition of US inventors is undergoing a significant transformation—with deep impacts for the overall agglomeration of US innovation. This study applies an ethnic-name database to individual US patent records to explore these trends with greater detail. The contributions of Chinese and Indian scientists and engineers to US technology formation increase dramatically in the 1990s. At the same time, these ethnic inventors became more spatially concentrated across US cities. The combination of these two factors helps stop and reverse long-term declines in overall inventor agglomeration evident in the 1970s and 1980s. The heightened ethnic agglomeration is particularly evident in industry patents for high-tech sectors, and similar trends are not found in institutions constrained from agglomerating (e.g., universities, government).

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