那些有潜力成为美国下一个爱因斯坦的学生，在小学期间就能看出端倪，然而他们当中大多数人长大后没有成为发明家。问题出在哪里？均等机会项目（Equality of Opportunity Project）的研究人员根据对专利、税收记录和考试分数的调查，来判断哪些学生长大后成为了美国的发明家，哪些学生没有。结果显示，人生早期的限制就能决定这个美国人能否为社会贡献出具有变革性的思想。
Students with the potential to be America’s next Einstein can be identified in elementary school, yet most won’t grow up to be innovators. So where’s the disconnect? Researchers from the Equality of Opportunity Project examined patents, tax records, and test scores to determine which kids grow up to become inventors in the United States—and which ones do not. According to the findings, limitations that begin early in life help dictate whether a given American will contribute transformational ideas to society.
“I was a little shocked that you could know so much just by third grade about who’s going to become an inventor based on science and math test scores,” says Alex Bell, a doctoral student at Harvard and lead author of the study.
But even top-scoring students weren’t much more likely to grow up to be innovators unless they were boys from white, upper-class backgrounds. Children from the top 1% of household incomes were 10 times as likely to become inventors when they grew up as their middle- and low-income peers. White children were three times as likely as black children, and girls go on to hold just 18% of patents in the U.S.
Decreasing these disparities hinges on changing a student’s environment and correcting a lack of exposure to innovation. Proximity to inventors made children more likely to grow up to become patent holders, specifically in the same fields as their parents or other adults in their communities. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” Bell says. “Having a mentor or a role model that’s in some sense similar to you is important.”
Imagine a world where, for example, girls saw women inventors as often as boys see men inventors. Recognizing the problem, then, is the first step to retaining these lost Einsteins. “This is not just the lives of the people who fall out of the pipeline that we’re talking about,” Bell says. “This is something very important to all of society.”
A version of this article appears in the Jan. 1, 2018 issue of Fortune with the headline “Inventing the Inventors.”