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.
mathematics and use a unique institutional feature of this discipline: the International Mathematics Olympiads (IMO), a prominent worldwide competition for high-school students. This setting allows us to measure talent in teenage years (as proxied by IMOscores) as well as to conduct direct comparisons of talent in teenage years across countries. Thus, in the paper we use the word talent to refer to an individual’s problem-solving capacity in their teenage years. This could be a product of innate ability, practice, or both. By connecting multiple sources, we are able to
for the country the individual represented at the IMO.
By controlling for IMOscore fixed effects, we compare individuals who had the same level of problem-solving ability in their late teens, thus mitigating concerns about endogeneous selection into migration based on early indicators or talent. In the alternative specification, we replace the migrant indicator variable by indicator variables for migrant to the U.S., migrant to the U.K. and migrant to other countries. The regressions are estimated by Poisson (when cites is the dependent variable) or Ordinary
This paper studies the impact of U.S. immigration barriers on global knowledge production. We present four key findings. First, among Nobel Prize winners and Fields Medalists, migrants to the U.S. play a central role in the global knowledge network—representing 20-33% of the frontier knowledge producers. Second, using novel survey data and hand-curated life-histories of International Math Olympiad (IMO) medalists, we show that migrants to the U.S. are up to six times more productive than migrants to other countries—even after accounting for talent during one’s teenage years. Third, financing costs are a key factor preventing foreign talent from migrating abroad to pursue their dream careers, particularly for talent from developing countries. Fourth, certain ‘push’ incentives that reduce immigration barriers—by addressing financing constraints for top foreign talent—could increase the global scientific output of future cohorts by 42 percent. We concludeby discussing policy options for the U.S. and the global scientific community.
percent earn a bronze medal. ICM = International Congress of Mathematicians; IMO = International Mathematical Olympiad.
IMOscores and math PhDs
Source : Agarwal, Ruchir, and Patrick Gaule. “Invisible Geniuses: Could the Knowledge Frontier Advance Faster?” American Economic Review: insights 2(4): 409–24.
Note : The chart is based on 4,710 IMO participants. Income categories are based on the World Bankcountry classification. IMO = International Mathematical Olympiad.
Our recent work (written jointly with Geoff Smith) makes it possible to