April 2016

IZA DP No. 9897: Did Cheaper Flights Change the Direction of Science?

published as 'How Do Travel Costs Shape Collaboration?' in: Management Science, 2020, 66 (2), 3340-3360

We test how a reduction in travel cost affects the rate and direction of scientific research. Using a fine-grained, scientist-level dataset within chemistry (1991-2012), we find that after Southwest Airlines enters a new route, scientific collaboration increases by 50%, an effect that is magnified when weighting output by quality. The benefits from the lower fares, however, are not uniform across scientist types: younger scientists and scientists that are more productive than their local peers respond the most. Thus, cheaper flights, by reducing frictions otherwise induced by geography and allowing for additional face-to-face interactions, seem to enable better matches over distance.