A newly minted Ph.D. economist from Harvard decided to use Big Data to match the counties (not countries) where the most people listed as notable on Wikipedia were born. He took more than 150,000 Americans and matched them with county of birth, date of birth, occupation and gender and merged them with the National Center for Health Statistics.
Top counties for Wiki notables were Suffolk, MA, San Francisco, Johnson, Iowa (I’ll explain later), Washtenaw, MI (same), and Washington, D.C. Counties with the lowest density of notables (proportionately) were Allegan, MI, Harlan, KY, Floyd, KY, Adams, CO, Adams, PA.
Baby boomers making the Wiki list, 30% were in arts and entertainment, 29% in sports, 16% in multiple fields, 9% in politics, 3% in science and academics, 2% in business and the rest in other fields.
Among the three largest contributors, New York City produced the most notable journalists; Boston the most notable scientists (Suffolk County, MA includes Boston); and LA the most notable actors (no surprise there).
What does the economist attribute such “notability” numbers to?
First, the study’s author said was proximity to a sizable college town (Johnson County, Iowa is the home of the University of Iowa); Washtenaw, MI is the home county of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. College towns offer diversity of talent, experiences, and early exposure to innovation, especially music, the study found.
The second predictor of Wiki notability was being near a big city. Urban areas tend to be well-supplied with models of success. Seeing and being near successful practitioners of a craft when young offers a model to build on.
A third variable seemed to point to the fact that notables were often the children of immigrants, including John Belushi and Steve Jobs.
Conclusive? Hardly. Interesting and a conversation starter? Hopefully. What else drives innovation and creativity (forget Wikipedia and Suffolk County, Mass. for the moment)?
In some sense, the world is moving toward at least one variable–urbanization. In 2010, for the first time in human history, more than half the people living on earth lived in cities. In 40 more years, it’s projected the earth’s population will be around 9 billion people. That’s a lot of people in cities.
So the question about what’s happening to spur and encourage creativity and innovation? Perhaps it is the social dynamics contained in serendipity, connection, discovery, networking, the ability to play out scenarios and games contained in the organic messiness of a great creative city or college campus. It’s a question a lot of cities are asking themselves in trying to create the next Silicon Valley and the creative and innovative entrepreneurs who are changing the way we live, work, and do business.
For a full listing of U.S. counties and his explanation of the study results by author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/opinion/sunday/the-geography-of-fame.html