To answer the question of where the most successful Americans come from, New York Times columnist and Harvard economics Ph.D. recipient Seth Stephens-Davidowitz turned to Wikipedia.
What he found are "huge differences throughout the United States in the probability of making it to Wikipedia," he tells us in the accompanying video. "If you're born in one of the most successful places such as Boston or Ann Arbor, MI, you're 20 times more likely to make it to Wikipedia than if you're born in one of the least successful places, such as Allegan, MI or Harding, KY."
To come up with the results, Stephens-Davidowitz threw criminals like Ted Bundy out of the data set, and analyzed notable individuals from fields including entertainment, sports, politics, academia and science. He focused on baby boomers, as they had nearly a full lifetime to achieve success, and he broke the results down by county. And while people may "quibble over whether making it to Wikipedia is the ultimate mark of success," he contends it is a pretty good measure.
He found nearly all of the top counties for producing the country's biggest successes fit into two categories: most either contained a college town or a major city. Why do these factors led to notability?
"If you're born in a college town your parents might be professors or grad students -- they're probably pretty smart," he says. And that may lead to better outcomes for the children.
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Another key element he adds is "exposure to early innovation," citing the businesses that take off in colleges and, particularly for notable musicians, the exposure to innovative record stores, concerts and radio stations.
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He attributes exposure to ideas as key to the success of those born in cities. "It's much better to grow up around ideas than to grow up around backyards," Stephens-Davidowitz remarks.
And the best place birthplace for success has a combination of both attributes: Boston, MA, which boasts both a major urban area and a number of colleges.
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