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Distance to Which Frontier? Evidence on Productivity Convergence from International Firm-level Data


  • Bartelsman, Eric J
  • Haskel, Jonathan
  • Martin, Ralf


An extensive literature on the convergence of productivity between countries examines whether productivity is pulled towards the global frontier country, perhaps due to learning and knowledge spillovers. More recently, studies within countries use the wide dispersion of productivity across firms to explore convergence to the national frontier. Given this within-country dispersion however between country-dispersion is hard to interpret, for it is quite possible that the best firms in a laggard average country are above at least some firms in a leading average country. This paper therefore uses micro data sets across many countries to build better measures of global and national frontiers and firms’ distance from them. Using UK data, we then find that (a) the national frontier exerts a stronger pull on domestic firms than does the global frontier and (b) the pull from the global frontier falls with technological distance, while the pull from the national frontier does not. This result suggests that firms might lag so far technologically that they cannot learn from the global frontier, while they still are able to benefit from domestic knowledge.

Suggested Citation

  • Bartelsman, Eric J & Haskel, Jonathan & Martin, Ralf, 2008. "Distance to Which Frontier? Evidence on Productivity Convergence from International Firm-level Data," CEPR Discussion Papers 7032, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:7032

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    Cited by:

    1. Bartelsman, Eric & Dobbelaere, Sabien & Peters, Bettina, 2013. "Allocation of Human Capital and Innovation at the Frontier: Firm-Level Evidence on Germany and the Netherlands," IZA Discussion Papers 7540, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Lee, Dongyeol, 2016. "Role of R&D in the productivity growth of Korean industries: Technology gap and business cycle," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 31-45.
    3. Henry van der Wiel & Harold Creusen & George van Leeuwen & Eugene van der Pijll, 2008. "Cross your border and look around," DEGIT Conference Papers c013_005, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.
    4. Martin, Ralf, 2009. "Why is the US so energy intensive?: evidence from US multinationals in the UK," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 28703, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    5. Andrea Lasagni & Annamaria Nifo & Gaetano Vecchione, 2015. "Firm Productivity And Institutional Quality: Evidence From Italian Industry," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 55(5), pages 774-800, November.
    6. Priit Vahter, "undated". "Does FDI spur innovation, productivity and knowledge sourcing by incumbent firms? Evidence from manufacturing industry in Estonia," Discussion Papers 10/09, University of Nottingham, GEP.
    7. Agostino, Mariarosaria & Nifo, Annamaria & Trivieri, Francesco & Vecchione, Gaetano, 2016. "Total factor productivity heterogeneity: channelling the impact of institutions," MPRA Paper 72759, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. Fabling, Richard & Grimes, Arthur & Sanderson , Lynda & Stevens, Philip, 2008. "Some Rise by Sin, and Some by Virtue Fall: Firm Dynamics, Market Structure and Performance," Occasional Papers 08/1, Ministry of Economic Development, New Zealand.
    9. Eric J. Bartelsman & Zoltan Wolf, 2017. "Measuring Productivity Dispersion," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 17-033/VI, Tinbergen Institute.
    10. Norman Gemmell & Richard Kneller & Danny McGowan & Ismael Sanz, "undated". "Corporate Taxation and Productivity Catch-Up: Evidence from 11 European Countries," Discussion Papers 12/06, University of Nottingham, School of Economics.
    11. Chad Syverson, 2011. "What Determines Productivity?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(2), pages 326-365, June.
    12. Ferrari, Alessandra & Girardone, Claudia & Wilson, John O.S., 2016. "Integration, productivity and technological spillovers: Evidence for eurozone banking industriesAuthor-Name: Casu, Barbara," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 255(3), pages 971-983.
    13. Simon Alder, 2010. "Competition and innovation: does the distance to the technology frontier matter?," IEW - Working Papers 493, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    14. J. David Brown & John Earle, 2011. "Nature Versus Nurture in the Origins of Highly Productive Businesses: An Exploratory Analysis of U.S. Manufacturing Establishments," Working Papers 11-26, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    15. Gemmell, Norman & Kneller, Richard & McGowan, Danny & Sanz, Ismael & Sanz-Sanz, José F., 2013. "Corporate Taxation and Productivity Catch-Up: Evidence from European firms," Working Paper Series 2705, Victoria University of Wellington, Chair in Public Finance.
    16. Giovanni Dosi & Sébastien Lechevalier & Angelo Secchi, 2010. "Interfirm heterogeneity: nature, sources and consequences for industrial dynamics. An introduction," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) hal-00642680, HAL.
    17. Claussen, Jörg & Essling, Christian & Kretschmer, Tobias, 2015. "When less can be more – Setting technology levels in complementary goods markets," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 44(2), pages 328-339.
    18. Tomohiko Inui, 2015. "Comment on “Escaping the Middle-Income Trap in Southeast Asia: Micro Evidence on Innovation, Productivity, and Globalization”," Asian Economic Policy Review, Japan Center for Economic Research, vol. 10(1), pages 150-151, January.
    19. Alessandro Saia & Dan Andrews & Silvia Albrizio, 2015. "Productivity Spillovers from the Global Frontier and Public Policy: Industry-Level Evidence," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1238, OECD Publishing.
    20. Nifo A. & Vecchione G., 2015. "Measuring Institutional Quality in Italy," Rivista economica del Mezzogiorno, Società editrice il Mulino, issue 1-2, pages 157-182.
    21. YoungGak KIM & ITO Keiko, 2013. "R&D Investment and Productivity: A comparative study of Japanese and Korean firms," Discussion papers 13043, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).

    More about this item


    convergence; distance to frontier; productivity; spillovers;

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence
    • O57 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Comparative Studies of Countries

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