Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 659–695 | Cite as

How do the foreign-born perform in inventive activity? Evidence from Sweden

  • Yannu ZhengEmail author
  • Olof Ejermo
Original Paper


Using a new database that matches patent applications by Swedish residents with demographic information from 1985 to 2007, we examine differences in inventive performance by individuals of foreign and domestic origins, in terms of quantity (probability of patenting, total number of patents per inventor) and quality (forward citations, probability of grant) of patents. We further compare adult and child immigrants with their Swedish-born counterparts. Holding other variables constant, we find that the immigrants are generally less likely to patent than the Swedish-born. Nonetheless, the general group of immigrant inventors, including those who migrated as adults, performs as well as the native inventors and therefore seems more positively selected. Compared with the Swedish-born, the immigrants who migrated as children are disadvantaged in both quantity and quality of patents, which may be linked to a lack of Sweden-specific human capital. Whether education was received in Sweden does not seem to make a difference for the immigrants who migrated as adults. In summary, this study provides an initial impression of the inventive performance, contribution and challenges of distinct groups of immigrants who have differing characteristics and backgrounds.


Immigrants Inventors Children Adults 

JEL classification

J15 J24 N30 O31 



The authors would like to thank the anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions. We are grateful to Lennart Schön, Ron Boschma, Taehyun Jung, Cristina Chaminade, Torben Schubert, Martin Andersson, Jonas Gabrielsson, Josef Taalbi, Ju Liu and other colleagues who have contributed comments and suggestions for this paper in seminars at CIRCLE and the Department of Economic History, Lund University. We also appreciate the comments from Jacob Rubæk Holm, Pooyan Khashabi and Francesco Lissoni made at the DRUID Academy Conference 2013 and the summer school ‘Knowledge dynamics, industry evolution, economic development’ in Nice in 2013 and from Siri Terjesen. We thank Niclas Lavesson, Sten Dieden and John Källström for data assistance and Jaya Reddy for language checking. In addition, we truly appreciate the very constructive comments from the three anonymous reviewers appointed by the Journal of Population Economics. We gratefully acknowledge the funding support from the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (VINNOVA) Grant No. 85958435056 and from the Swedish Research Council Grant No. 421-2011-2068.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economic History, Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy (CIRCLE)Lund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy (CIRCLE)Lund UniversityLundSweden

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