Engineers, Innovative Capacity and Development in the Americas

with William F. Maloney — Documento CEDE, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper.

This paper o ffers the first systematic historical evidence on the role of a central factor in modern growth theory – the engineer. We collect cross-country and state level data on the population share of engineers for the Americas, and county level data on engineering and patenting for the US during the Second Industrial Revolution. These are robustly correlated with income today after controlling for literacy, other types of higher order human capital (e.g. lawyers, physicians), demand side factors, and instrumenting engineering using the Land Grant Colleges program. We support these results with historical case studies from the US and Latin America. A one standard deviation increase in engineers in 1880 accounts for a 16% increase in US county income today, and patenting capacity contributes another 10%. Our estimates also help explain why countries with similar levels of income in 1900, but tenfold di fferences in engineers diverged in their growth trajectories over the next century.

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