Ethnic Scientific Communities and International Technology Diffusion

Innovation and Economic Growth

Article Snapshot


William R. Kerr


Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 90, No. 3, pp. 518-537, 2008


This paper shows that US researchers with foreign ties increase the rate of technology transfer to their home countries.

Policy Relevance

The emigration of highly-skilled individuals to advanced economies seems to assist in the diffusion of technological knowledge to the country of origin.

Main Points

  • New technologies and inventions spur growth; but, developed countries around for 83% of research and developments and expenditures and 98% of patenting.

    • Poor countries rely on the diffusion of technologies, patents, and other productive knowledge.

    • Diffusion to poor countries is slower than might be expected, perhaps because informal knowledge is necessary for the use of information contained in patents and publications.  For example, a patent may contain a description of a part in a machine, but not the manufacturing technique used to make such a part.
  • Sending scientists from underdeveloped to advanced economies might help knowledge diffuse more quickly.

    • Foreign researchers cite papers written by US researchers of the same ethnicity 30-50% more frequently in the first 5 years after a paper is published, suggesting ethnicity is related to knowledge diffusion.

    • At national and industry levels, each 10% increase of a nation’s contingent of scientists in the US is expected to increase corresponding output in the home country by 1-4%.  For example, if the number of Indian computer scientists in the US doubled, the Indian tech industry’s output might be expected to increase by 10-40%.

    • Industrialized but underdeveloped countries like the Asian tigers tended to increase output by making existing workers more productive; less-developed countries tended to add workers to their existing industries instead.

    • Knowledge transfers are particularly important in high-tech fields.

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