How Do Travel Costs Shape Collaboration?

81 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2018 Last revised: 16 Apr 2019

See all articles by Christian Catalini

Christian Catalini

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management; Calibra, Inc.; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Christian Fons-Rosen

Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Patrick Gaule


Multiple version iconThere are 4 versions of this paper

Date Written: June 2018


We develop a simple theoretical framework for thinking about how geographic frictions, and in particular travel costs, shape scientists' collaboration decisions and the types of projects that are developed locally versus over distance. We then take advantage of a quasi-experiment — the introduction of new routes by a low-cost airline — to test the predictions of the theory. Results show that travel costs constitute an important friction to collaboration: after a low-cost airline enters, the number of collaborations increases between 0.3 and 1.1 times, a result that is robust to multiple falsification tests and causal in nature. The reduction in geographic frictions is particularly beneficial for high quality scientists that are otherwise embedded in worse local environments. Consistent with the theory, lower travel costs also endogenously change the types of projects scientists engage in at different levels of distance. After the shock, we observe an increase in higher quality and novel projects, as well as projects that take advantage of complementary knowledge and skills between sub-fields, and that rely on specialized equipment. We test the generalizability of our findings from chemistry to a broader dataset of scientific publications, and to a different field where specialized equipment is less likely to be relevant, mathematics. Last, we discuss implications for the formation of collaborative R&D teams over distance.

Suggested Citation

Catalini, Christian and Fons-Rosen, Christian and Gaule, Patrick, How Do Travel Costs Shape Collaboration? (June 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w24780, Available at SSRN:

Christian Catalini (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

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Calibra, Inc.

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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Christian Fons-Rosen

Universitat Pompeu Fabra ( email )

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Patrick Gaule

CERGE-EI ( email )

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Czech Republic


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