NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cheaper Collaboration

November 8, 2002

Large universities carry with them several benefits. One of the key perks is having a sizeable number of professors under one roof. This allows for easier collaboration on papers and research, making the university and the professors more productive. However, new research suggests that new communication technologies may be changing this dynamic.

  • In the 1970s, only 5 percent of joint research was conducted at a distance.
  • By the 1990s, approximately 20 percent of all coauthored work was accomplished by authors who lived in different cities for the entire production period.

Researchers argue distant coauthorship is like any other normal economic good of the economy. As prices go down people consume more of the good. With the advent of email and cheaper long distance rates, the cost of distant communication has fallen tremendously. (Not that collaboration isn't still costly; scholars forgo at least $640 in additional income when they choose distant coauthorship.)

Researchers conclude that as communication becomes cheaper, larger universities will lose some of their advantage over smaller universities. Since professors no longer need to live in the same city to produce high quality coauthored work, they will use other criteria in choosing universities -- thus leading to a more even distribution of scholars across universities.

Source: Daniel S. Hamermesh and Sharon M. Oster, "Tools or Toys? The Impact of High Technology on Scholarly Productivity," Economic Inquiry, Vol. 40, No. 4, October 2002.


Browse more articles on Economic Issues