Commuting and Innovation: Are Closer Inventors More Productive?

Hong Yu Xiao, Business Economics and Public Policy, The Wharton School; Andy Wu, Harvard Business School; and Jaeho Kim, Harvard Business School

Journal of Urban Economics, January 2021

Abstract: We estimate the causal effect of workplace–home commuting distance on inventor productivity. We construct a novel panel of U.S. inventors with precisely measured workplace–home distances and inventor-level productivity. Our identification strategy exploits firm office relocations as exogenous variation in the commuting distance of inventors at the firms. We find a significant negative effect from commuting distance on inventor productivity: every 10 km increase in distance is associated with a 5% decrease in patents per inventor–firm pair per year and an even greater 7% decrease in patent quality. The highest-performing inventors suffer more from increased commuting distance. We discuss the implications of our findings in the light of recent trends around telecommuting and remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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