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Inventive But Not Inventors

What is happening to the next generation of inventive minds?

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Inventive Minds

Inventive Minds

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Having a healthy inventive drive and being productive in the innovation arena is essential for any country to remain globally competitive, however, a new survey shows that there is an untapped group of potential inventors in the U.S.

Are We Losing the Inventive Edge?

The 2011 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index survey showed that American women ages 16 to 25 possess many inventive characteristics: creativity, an interest in science and math, a desire to develop altruistic inventions, and a preference for working in groups or with mentors. And yet these young women still do not see themselves as being inventive.

Young men in the same age group echo these characteristics, highlighting the need to cultivate young adults' interest in science and math, while educating and inspiring them about the impact they can have on others through invention.

The Breakdown

The annual Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, which gauges Americans' perceptions about invention and innovation, this year surveyed young men and women ages 16 - 25. Almost three in four young women (71 percent) indicate they are creative, the characteristic they most associate with inventors (63 percent); however, less than one in three (27 percent) describe themselves as inventive. Men also follow this trend; 66 percent say they are creative but only 39 percent describe themselves as inventive.

Further demonstrating inventive traits, young women show a strong affinity for math and science - two of every five female respondents (42 percent) rate these as their favorite subjects in school. More than half of male respondents (53 percent) agree. 35 percent of young women also say they have a family member working in a field related to science, technology, math or engineering. The results reveal young women's innate interest in inventive fields; however, recent statistics show while more women are entering college and obtaining degrees, less than ten percent earn them in technical majors such as computer and information sciences, engineering or math. This proportionately small group indicates a need to educate women about translating their skills and academic interests into inventive careers.

Fueling Future Innovation

The Lemelson-MIT Invention Index also reveals that young women and men do not see the U.S. as leading the way in invention; 61 percent of young women view Japan as the leader, with the U.S. ranking second at 27 percent. Young men agree, choosing Japan first (54 percent) and the U.S. second (36 percent).

To improve the U.S. standing, young women cite access to governmental funding (30 percent) and including invention projects during school (36 percent) as the best ways to encourage aspiring inventors. They cite lack of knowledge and concern about funding (65 percent) as the most challenging obstacles. Men agree, noting that providing places to develop inventions (24 percent) is another way to encourage hopeful inventors. The availability of invention tools and education has the potential to boost the quantity of inventive professionals, according to survey respondents.

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