Integrating the SDGs and finding lost Einsteins

“…there are many “lost Einsteins”…especially among women, minorities, and children from low-income families.”(1)

There is an increasing amount of evidence that there can be considerable synergy between SDGs (2). The potential of the reduced inequalities of SDGs 5 and 10 to have a positive impact on wellbeing and social justice (SDGs 1, 2, 3) is well recognised. Perhaps the impact of reduced inequalities on the economic progress represented by SDGs 8 and 9 is less well appreciated.

A recent book (3) by Heather Boushey of the Washington Centre for Equitable Growth focusses on how inequality ‘obstructs, subverts and distorts’ economic growth. For example, she argues that inequality lowers aggregate demand as the better off have a lower propensity consume and save more than those at the bottom end of the income distribution. This also forces the less well off into debt to finance consumption.

She also cites a study by Alex Bell and others, which was published last year, that adds a further interesting dimension to this issue. By analysing data from patent records in the US and linking them to tax records, they found that children’s chances of becoming inventors are heavily influenced by characteristics at birth, such as their race, gender, and parents’ socioeconomic class. Children from families in the top 1% of income were 10 times more likely to become inventors as those from below-median income families. Even more tellingly they found that these gaps persisted even among children who performed similarly in maths tests in early childhood – maths ability was found to be highly predictive of innovation success in later life.

This work suggests that there is significant innovative potential being stifled by inequality and led them to coin the term ‘lost Einsteins’ to capture this waste. It is further evidence of the need to see reduced inequality not just as an important goal in its own right to improve wellbeing and social justice, but as a contributor to more innovation, higher productivity and better economic performance.


1 Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation – Alex Bell, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, John Van Reenen -The Quarterly Journal of Economics (May 2019)

2 Bond SDG Network April 2020 webinar

3 Unbound: How Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do About It, Heather Boushey (2019)

Author: scotinsight

The Scottish Universities Insight Institute supports programmes of knowledge exchange which address and provide insight on substantial issues that face Scotland and the wider world. Our programmes break down disciplinary and organisational barriers in bringing together academics from different backgrounds, policymakers and practitioners. We mobilise existing knowledge in fresh ways through sustained and collaborative focus on a shared issue and aim to support decision makers in all sectors of society in being better informed. Our partner universities are: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Heriot Watt, St Andrews, Strathclyde, and Glasgow School of Art.

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