February 03, 2017

Ellis Island in the fog. Credit: srslyguys Flickr / Creative Commons

Einstein. Tesla. Levi-Strauss. Immigrants have had an outsized impact on innovation in America. But, can you actually measure how much? Turns out, you can. Petra Moser, an economist at New York University, studied how German-Jewish emigres boosted American innovation after World War II. And, Jennifer Hunt, an economist at Rutgers University, has found that foreign-born college graduates file for twice as many patents as college graduates born in America. We talk with them about how immigration shapes innovation. 

Three Takeaways:

  • German-Jewish emigres who came here because of WWII - and the lead-up to it - boosted American scientists’ productivity by 30 percent! That’s a lot of new patents. 
  • Teach a man to fish… “It was not the German Jewish emigres themselves that increased invention, but what they taught other people, and what [that] enabled other American scientists to do that caused this increase in U.S. invention,” Moser says. 
  • Science is a universal language, which could be why many international students in the US are in STEM. That also might explain why college graduates from abroad file twice as many patents as American-born college grads… they’re more likely to be engineers or scientists.

More Reading:

Culture, Jennifer Hunt, Petra Moser, Kara Miller

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