Research / BFI Working PaperApr 03, 2023

Where Have All the “Creative Talents” Gone? Employment Dynamics of US Inventors

Ufuk Akcigit, Nathan Goldschlag

How are inventors allocated in the US economy and does that allocation affect innovative capacity? To answer these questions, we first build a model of creative destruction where an inventor with a new idea has the possibility to work for an entrant or incumbent firm. If the inventor works for the entrant the innovation is implemented and the entrant displaces the incumbent firm. Strategic considerations encourage the incumbent to hire the inventor, offering higher wages, and then not implement the inventor’s idea. To test this prediction, we combine data on the employment history of over 760 thousand U.S. inventors with information on jobs from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) Program at the U.S. Census Bureau. Our results show that (i) inventors are increasingly concentrated in large incumbents, less likely to work for young firms, and less likely to become entrepreneurs, and (ii) when an inventor is hired by an incumbent, compared to a young firm, their earnings increases by 12.6 percent and their innovative output de- clines by 6 to 11 percent. We also show that these patterns are robust and not driven by life cycle effects or occupational composition effects.

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