How Do Travel Costs Shape Collaboration?

Christian Catalini, Christian Fons-Rosen, Patrick Gaule

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (SciVal)
37 Downloads (Pure)


We develop a simple theoretical framework for thinking about how geographicfrictions, and in particular travel costs, shape scientists’collaboration decisions and thetypes of projects that are developed locally versus over distance. We then take advantageof a quasi-experiment—the introduction of new routes by a low-cost airline—to test thepredictions of the theory. Results show that travel costs constitute an important friction tocollaboration: after a low-cost airline enters, the number of collaborations increases be-tween 0.3 and 1.1 times, a result that is robust to multiple falsification tests and causal innature. The reduction in geographic frictions is particularly beneficial for high-qualityscientists that are otherwise embedded in worse local environments. Consistent with thetheory, lower travel costs also endogenously change the types of projects scientists engagein at different levels of distance. After the shock, we observe an increase in higher-qualityand novel projects, as well as projects that take advantage of complementary knowledgeand skills between subfields, and that rely on specialized equipment. We test the gen-eralizability of ourfindings from chemistry to a broader data set of scientific publicationsand to a differentfield where specialized equipment is less likely to be relevant, mathe-matics. Last, we discuss implications for the formation of collaborative research and de-velopment teams over distance.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberArticles in advance.
Pages (from-to)3340-3360
Number of pages21
JournalManagement Science
Issue number8
Early online date10 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Face-to-face meetings
  • Geographic frictions
  • Recombinations of ideas
  • Scientific collaboration
  • Temporary colocation
  • Travel costs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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