The advancement of the knowledge frontier is crucial for technological innovation and human progress. Using novel data from the setting of mathematics, this paper establishes two results. First, we document that individuals who demonstrate exceptional talent in their teenage years have an irreplaceable ability to create new ideas over their lifetime, suggesting that talent is a central ingredient in the production of knowledge. Second, such talented individuals born in low- or middle-income countries are systematically less likely to become knowledge producers. Our findings suggest that policies to encourage exceptionally-talented youth to pursue scientific careers—especially those from lower income countries—could accelerate the advancement of the knowledge frontier.
become a Fields medalist is fifty times larger than the corresponding probability for a PhD graduate from a top 10 mathematics program.
We then investigate whether success in the IMO might have a causal effect on subsequent achievements in mathematics. To do so, we exploit the fact that IMO medals are an important summary of IMOperformance, and are allocated solely based on the number of points scored at the IMO. We implement a regression discontinuity research design comparing those who nearly made a medal threshold versus those who nearly missed them. We find no