Correlating Population Diversity and Innovation: A Demographic Approach to National Innovation Systems

  • Omar T. Mezher

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The United Arab Emirates has effectively used population diversity, measured as the percentage of foreign-born residents, to achieve one of the highest economic growth rates in the world. As it moves to build a knowledge-based economy to supplement its powerful oil, manufacturing, transportation and tourism sectors, The UAE should consider how to use population diversity as part of its National Innovation Strategy. Little research has been conducted on the link between population diversity and technology-based innovation as it applies to the UAE. This thesis therefore seeks to answer the following questions: Does the extent of population diversity in a country, correlate with rates of technology-based innovation? And, if so, how can the UAE use population diversity to support technology based innovation which is a vital component of a knowledge-based economy? The research methodology used in this thesis is two-fold. The first part of the methodology, primarily quantitative, is based on a comparative analysis of data from 34 countries on population diversity and innovation output represented by technology-based intellectual property, primarily patents and science, technology, engineering and mathematics ("STEM") research papers. Statistical tools are used to analyze this data. Results show that in a group of fifteen developed countries with per capita incomes comparable to that in the UAE there are compelling indications that diversity aids innovation. The data included the percentage of foreign born residents holding patents in each country in addition to the percentage of foreign born residents named in highly cited patents (top 5%). On average, foreign born residents were more than twice as likely (2.2x) as native born residents to hold patents, and were almost three times as likely (2.9x) to be named on highly-cited patents. Country variations were intriguing: foreign born residents in Italy and Spain were less likely than native born residents to file patents (0.7x and 0.8x, respectively), though they still showed higher rates of high impact patents (1.2x and 1.3x, respectively). The second part of the methodology, primarily qualitative, is based on a comparative analysis of case studies from two countries similar to the UAE regarding diversity, economic development, country size, and transitioning phase to a knowledge-based economy: Singapore and Luxemburg. This section of the methodology, discussed in chapter five, will help answer the question of how can population diversity can better contribute to the UAE’s national innovation system. Both countries have successfully implemented a national innovation system that is helping transform their economy to a knowledge-based one. Both countries have high levels of diversity, like the UAE, but significantly higher innovation outputs relative to the UAE. For this reason these two countries were analyzed for their strategies that successfully deployed strong national innovation systems and innovative entrepreneurial environments. Results suggest that characteristics of foreign resident labor such as education levels and work experience, for example, as well as national policies to attract and retain such labor, play an important role in technology-based innovation. These results were incorporated in recommendations for national innovation policies for the UAE.
Date of AwardMay 2015
Original languageAmerican English
SupervisorBruce Walker Ferguson (Supervisor)


  • Economic Growth – UAE
  • Innovation strategies
  • population diversity
  • Innovation in technology
  • knowledge based economy
  • Intellectual property
  • patents
  • STEM research
  • comparative analysis
  • national innovation system
  • innovative entrepreneurial environments
  • innovation policies.

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