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Petra Moser

December 18th, 2018

"Inequality in American Science"


Advances in science and innovation are the number one source of sustained improvements in individual well-being and economic growth. This project examines the origins of American leadership in science and innovation in the 20th century, starting with three major questions: 1) How has socioeconomic inequality influenced participation in American science? 2) What are the benefits of public investments in education, reaching from pre-K to the university level? 3) How has immigration influenced science and innovation in the United States? A major challenge for empirical analyses of science lies in the absence of systematic long-run data on successful scientists, including their socioeconomic background, education, work histories, inventions, and publications. This research constructs such data for more than 100,000 American scientists who were born between 1817 and 1933. Machine-learning algorithms link each scientist with their census records, patents, and publications. Empirical analyses examine the effects of ethnicity-based restrictions on immigration in the 1920s to investigate the effects of such policies on US science and innovation. Tests for inequality examine the changing influence of a person’s socioeconomic background on their success as a scientist. Analyses of education investigate the effects of expansions in public education on participation in STEM by people who were disadvantaged based on their socioeconomic status, as well as by women and minorities.