The Patent Gap (Ep. 67)

(Photo: Argonne National Laboratory)

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “The Patent Gap.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript here.)

It centers around a new working paper called “Why Don’t Women Patent?” by Jennifer HuntJean-Philippe Garant, Hannah Herman, and David J. Munroe. We talk to one of its authors, the Rutgers economist Jennifer Hunt. (We recently previewed this research on the blog, and some of Hunt’s earlier research too.)

The paper argues that: a) only 5.5% of commercialized or licensed patents are held by women; that b) this gap cannot be significantly explained by the fact that fewer women hold science and engineering degrees, as “women with such a degree are scarcely more likely to patent than women without”; and that c) closing the “patent gap” could “increase U.S. GDP per capita by 2.7%.”

As Hunt puts it:

HUNT: “Women’s talents must just be being underutilized in this area — science and engineering innovation.  So it seems as though we’re misusing talent and we’re overlooking talent that could be used to improve technology and economic growth.”

The Marketplace piece uses the patent-gap story as a jumping-off point to discuss the larger issue of the salary gender gap, which we’ve written about in SuperFreakonomics and on the blog.

There are of course a lot of factors to think about within the gender gap: self-selection, discrimination, and of course differences between men and women. In the Marketplace piece, we look into the growing evidence that women seem to embrace less risk and compete differently when going up against men than when going up against other women.

To that end, we hear from the economist Alison Booth (also a successful fiction writer!) who’s done research in this realm. One of her experiments (also featured recently on the blog) showed that females were more willing to take risks in a single-sex environment.

So what should be done if so many women’s talents aren’t being properly exploited?

I propose one idea at the end of the Marketplace segment that, while seemingly practical, will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. Some might even think it repugnant.


Part of the reason I am the way I am is because I had 9 children and then was put in a situation of have to. And no, I'm not Octomom. I would rather find a way myself then ask everyone for help. It's true women don't like to take risks. But, when it is important like running in front of a car to save a kid they don't think twice. So, I guess I am a risk taker for the right reasons.Otherwise I'm not because I am a woman. Women like stability because of their ingrain nesting urge. Men have an ingrain desire to provide at all costs, period.So women who step on the risk line are usually doing it against there ingrain and out of nesessity. Out of nesessity is the mother of all inventions.