Fact of the Week: Between the 1850s and 1920s, Increases in Patents Filed by Immigrants Led to Increased Patent Filings by Native Residents

November 5, 2018

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For every 10 percent increase in patents filed by immigrants in the United States from the 1850s to the 1920s, patent filings by native residents of the same cities increased by 4 percent.

Source: Andrea Morrison, Sergio Petralia, and Dario Diodato, “Migration and Invention in the Age of Mass Migration,” Utrecht University, Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Group Economic Geography, October 2018.

Commentary: More than 30 million immigrants arrived in the United States between 1850 and the mid-1920s. Many were skilled workers who became inventors at disproportionately high rates. In fact, foreign-born individuals accounted for 21 percent of patent-holders in this period.

According to a new study, these foreign inventors facilitated native-born inventors, rather than crowding them out. Controlling for city size, a 10 percent increase in the number of patents filed by immigrants increased the number of patents filed by natives in in their respective cities by 4 percent. This demonstrates that immigrant inventors did not merely make the U.S. more innovative overall, they also increased the innovative capacity of those around them.