In reality, the proportion of prize winners born in Africa or India is lower by a factor of more than 100 than that of those born in Western Europe and North America. Moreover, the least developed countries, with 10 percent of the world’s population, have not produced a single prize winner in physics or chemistry during the entire history of those prizes.
Put differently, over two-thirds of Nobel prize—winning research done since 1960 has occurred in the United States, even though the United States averaged only 5 percent of the world’s population. The fact that 30 percent of U.S.-based Nobel prize winners were foreign born indicates the importance of the research environment for successful invention.
Looking forward, the key to continuing strong advances in knowledge for the United States and other countries is to increase investments in young scientists and other creative talent. The importance of the support environment is an emphatic reminder of the key role of educational and other social institutions in nurturing innovation. The United States has performed relatively poorly in recent years in K-12 education compared to other countries, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment. Also, most urban school districts in the United States see high school graduation rates of only 50 percent. These indicators are a reminder of the vast potential supply of scientific and innovational talents that remains untapped in the United States and the rest of the world, and of the important determinants of technological advance other than age.
PRODUCTIVITY AND THE AGE STRUCTURE
OF THE POPULATION
The second important factor in the productivity of the population involves the interaction of the quality of the workforce and the distribution of the population with a given technology. As noted above, this influence would include the impact of improved education, training, skill acquisition of labor as well as higher quality and quantity of complementary factors such as capital and resources. In its discussion, the committee focuses on the impact of a workforce whose composition is changing; the reason for this focus is that the impact of the age distribution on complementary factors such as capital and resources appears to be less significant.
The basic idea is that workers have different productivities as a result of evolving skills, experience, formal and informal education, training, and personal attributes over their life cycles. In the human capital model, productivity is a function of the amount of accumulated human capital. Human capital will vary over the life span. Generally, we expect productivity to be relatively low for unskilled and inexperienced workers; to rise with education and experience and as workers find a good match between