Faster, higher, stronger… and happier? Relative achievement and marginal rank effects

Paul Dolan, Chloe Foy, Georgios Kavetsos, Laura Kudrna

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Most prior research on the relationship between relative attainment and subjective wellbeing focuses on relative income. The direction of this relationship may, however, be positive or negative. Defining the target comparison group can be challenging. This study focuses on a sample where ‘relative others’ are especially salient – Olympic athletes – and investigates relative achievement using a different ‘currency’ – medals. While prior research shows that bronze are happier than silver medallists, we find no difference unless there is a relatively close race at the bottom of the podium in the competition between silver, bronze, and fourth. A nuanced distributional approach can be used to explore marginal rank effects.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101761
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics
Early online date4 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Matteo Galizzi, Kate Laffan, Richard Layard, Robert Metcalfe, Jeroen Neiboer, Nick Powdthavee, Stefano Testoni, Alex Wood and participants at the LSE CEP wellbeing seminars for comments and suggestions. Dolan and Kavetsos gratefully acknowledge financial support from the ESRC , grant number RES 360-25-0036 . Kudrna was partially funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Centre (ARC) West Midlands ( NIHR200165 ). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the funders. The funders had no role in the design of the study and collection, analysis, and interpretation of data and no role in writing the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors.


  • Counterfactual thinking
  • Happiness
  • Olympic games
  • Relative status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • General Social Sciences


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