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The Heirs of Creativity


A short paper published this week by NBER from authors Albert N. Link and Christopher J. Ruhm takes a simple but oft-neglected look into patents and creativity; namely, how creative parents influence their potentially creative children.  
The abstract states:

In this paper we show that the patenting behavior of creative entrepreneurs is correlated with the patenting behavior of their fathers, which we refer to as a source of the entrepreneurs’ human capital endowments. Our argument for this relationship follows from established theories of developmental creativity, and our empirical analysis is based on survey data collected from MIT’s Technology Review winners.

The authors begin with the premise that too little attention is given to the “human capital” involved in influencing someone’s likelihood of coming up with a patent. The study claims to focus “on the developmentally-acquired creativity,” meaning that the developmental experiences of an individual (which include things like parents) influence their creativity.
It should be noted that the study focuses on technological creativity in particular, not fine or performing arts.  The researchers studied invention winners of the Technology Review, MIT’s innovation magazine, from 1999 – 2009.
They found that fathers did have a creative influence on their offspring – invention winners were likely to have one or more patents if their father also did.

[C]reative entrepreneurs with fathers who patented are nearly 26 percentage points more likely to patent themselves compared to a similarly creative entrepreneur whose father did not patent.

They also found that those of Asian descent and those with a graduate degree in science or engineering are relatively more likely to patent than other creative entrepreneurs.
None of the innovation winners had mothers who could claim a patent as their own…though this is likely the symptom of a problem of the culture of human endowment, or lack thereof, over the past 50 years for women in the sciences.