Max Posch, University of Exeter

"How Social Structure Drives Innovation: Surname Diversity and Patents in U.S. History"


We study the impact of social structure, captured by the distribution of surnames, on innovation in U.S. counties from 1850 to 1940. Leveraging quasi-random variation in counties' surname compositions---stemming from the interplay between historical fluctuations in immigration and local factors that attract immigrants---we find that surname entropy increases both the quantity and quality of innovation. Supporting analyses suggest that the relationship arises from an increase in interactions among individuals with different skills, expertise and perspectives. The results support the view that the free flow of information between diverse minds is a key driver of innovation.

Co-authors: Jonathan Schulz and Joe Henrich

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Contact person: Jeanet Sinding Bentzen