# Big-O bounds on the k-th largest element of iid Gaussians

I'm interested in the following problem. Let $$X_1, \dots, X_n$$ be iid samples with a $$N(0,1)$$ distribution. Let $$X_{[k]}$$ be the $$k$$-th largest element of $$\{X_1, \dots, X_n\}$$, so e.g. $$X_{} = \max_i X_i$$.

Are there simple big-O bounds on $$X_{[k]}$$ for, say, all $$k < n/2$$? I know that $$X_{} = O(\sqrt{\log{n}})$$ (see here), and more generally, $$X_{[c]} = O(\sqrt{\log{n}})$$ for constant $$c$$ (see here). But what about $$X_{[\log{n}]}$$ or $$X_{[n/4]}$$, for example?

My motivation is that I want to calculate $$\sum_{i=1}^k E[X_{[i]}]$$ for various values of $$k$$.

Thanks!

• It's addressed at stats.stackexchange.com/questions/9001/… – Bjørn Kjos-Hanssen Jun 28 '19 at 8:07
• @BjørnKjos-Hanssen These are not very nice-looking "simple big-O bounds" however (which I assume is the main point of the OP's question). – Clement C. Jun 28 '19 at 16:04
• @ClementC. is correct, I saw that answer but those are not big-O bounds – Uthsav Chitra Jun 28 '19 at 18:13

This is not a complete answer by any means, but just a quick estimate on $$\mathbb{E}[\sum_{i=1}^k X_{[i]}]$$ that is slightly better than the trivial bound of $$O(k\sqrt{\log n})$$. If this is your goal, I would think it is easier to go directly for it than consider any given $$X_{[k]}$$. Let $$X_S=\sum_{i\in S} X_i$$ for a subset $$S\subseteq [n]$$ and $$Y_k=\sum_{i=1}^k X_{[i]}$$. Using the same technique as in the first link, \begin{align} \exp(t\mathbb{E}[Y_k])&\leq \mathbb{E}[\exp(tY_k)]\\ &=\mathbb{E}\bigg[\max_{S\subseteq [n]:\vert S\vert=k}\exp(tX_S)\bigg]\\ &\leq \sum_{S\subseteq [n]:\vert S\vert=k}\mathbb{E}[\exp(tX_S)]\\ &=\sum_{S\subseteq [n]:\vert S\vert=k}\exp\bigg(\frac{kt^2}{2}\bigg)\\ &={n \choose k}\exp\bigg(\frac{kt^2}{2}\bigg). \end{align} Taking (natural) logarithms, we find $$\mathbb{E}[Y_k]\leq \frac{\log{n \choose k}}{t}+\frac{kt}{2}.$$ Optimizing gives $$t=\sqrt{\frac{2\log{n \choose k}}{k}}$$ so we deduce $$\mathbb{E}[Y_k]\leq \sqrt{2k\log{n \choose k}}.$$

For $$k=o(n)$$, it is known that $$\log{n \choose k}=(1+o(1))k\log(n/k)$$, so in this regime, we get $$\mathbb{E}[Y_k]\leq k\sqrt{2(1+o(1))\log(n/k)},$$ which for $$k=\log n$$, say, is a bit better than the naive bound.

When $$k=\alpha n$$ for some constant $$\alpha$$, one instead has $$\log{n \choose k}=(1+o(1))H(\alpha)n$$, where $$H(p)=-p\log p-(1-p)\log(1-p)$$ is the entropy function. So in this regime, that would give $$\mathbb{E}[Y_k]\leq n\sqrt{2(1+o(1))\alpha H(\alpha)}.$$

Lower bounds added for completeness: for linear $$k$$, one can get decent linear lower bounds that degrade as $$\alpha\to 0$$ but is tight at $$\alpha=1/2$$. Let $$\alpha<1/2$$, then by the Chernoff bound, $$\Pr(X_{\alpha n+1}\leq 0)\leq \exp\bigg(\frac{-(1/2-\alpha)^2n}{2}\bigg).$$ It is known that for $$i, the conditional distribution of $$X_{[i]}$$ given $$X_{[j]}=x$$ is the same as the unconditional distribution of $$X_{[i]}$$ taken from a sample of size $$j-1$$ conditioned to be larger than $$x$$. As we are summing over all $$i\leq \alpha n$$ and taking expectations, we find that $$\mathbb{E}[\sum_{i=1}^{\alpha n} X_{[i]}\vert X_{\alpha n+1}\geq 0]\geq \mathbb{E}[\sum_{i=1}^{\alpha n} Y_i],$$ where the $$Y_i$$ are normal random variables conditioned to be larger than $$0$$, which are known to have expectation $$\sqrt{2/\pi}$$. We also find that $$\mathbb{E}[\sum_{i=1}^{\alpha n} X_{[i]}\vert X_{\alpha n+1}\leq 0]\geq 0,$$ as for each $$x<0$$, conditioning on $$X_{\alpha n}=x$$, by the same reasoning we are now taking expectations over a sample of size $$\alpha n$$ normal random variables conditioned to be at least $$x$$, which by symmetry of the normal distribution is at least $$0$$ (formally, we are using that the sum over the whole sample makes the labelling of the order statistics irrelevant). We conclude that $$\mathbb{E}[\sum_{i=1}^{\alpha n} X_{[i]}]\geq \bigg(1-\exp\bigg(\frac{-(1/2-\alpha)^2n}{2}\bigg)\bigg)\alpha n\sqrt{2/\pi}=(1-o(1))\alpha n \sqrt{2/\pi}.$$ This holds for all $$\alpha<1/2$$, and by monotonicity of the left hand side in $$\alpha$$ for $$\alpha<1/2$$ and taking limits, we can further conclude using the upper bound in the comments $$\mathbb{E}[\sum_{i=1}^{n/2} X_{[i]}]=(1-o(1))n\sqrt{1/(2\pi)}.$$

Obviously similar lower bounds hold for $$k=o(n)$$ but these aren't super useful as they are of vastly different order than the upper bound.

Numerical Simulations: Numerical simulations suggest that these bounds are surprisingly decent in the two regimes mentioned in the post. Note that for any $$k$$, the function $$f(x_1,\ldots,x_n)=\sum_{i=1}^k x_{[i]}$$ is Lipschitz, so by Gaussian concentration, one expects simulations to roughly approximate the expectation. For instance, for $$k=\log(n)$$, here is a plot of the upper bound with that of simulation, with the top curve being the naive bound of $$\sqrt{2}\log(n)^{3/2}$$ and the lower curve the given bound: In the linear $$k$$ regime, for the few values I tried, the constant of the upper bounds seems to be off by a factor of at most $$3$$ (at $$\alpha=1/2$$, where we have computed the exact asymptotics). For instance, for $$k=n/4$$, the plot with the bound looks like: The upper bounds seem pretty good for small constant $$\alpha$$, while the lower bounds degrade. For instance, here is $$\alpha=.001$$: Here's one more plot (because I can't resist) with $$k=\sqrt{n}$$: Hope this helps!

• Wow, these bounds are actually perfect for my application!! I really appreciate the graphs too showing that they're tight haha. Your strategy of bounding the sum directly, instead of each of the individual terms, is much smarter. Thank you!! – Uthsav Chitra Jun 28 '19 at 17:06
• You're welcome! By the way, for the specific case of $k=n/2$, one has $\mathbb{E}[\sum_{i=1}^{n/2} X_{[i]}]=\frac{1}{2}\mathbb{E}[\sum_{i=1}^{n/2} X_{[i]}-\sum_{i=1}^{n/2} X_{[n-i]}]$, so by TI, $\mathbb{E}[\sum_{i=1}^{n/2} X_{[i]}]\leq \frac{1}{2}\mathbb{E}[\sum_{i=1}^n \vert X_{[i]}\vert]=n\sqrt{1/(2\pi)}$. Simulations suggests this is essentially exact; there's probably a way to get a lower bound for $k=\alpha n$, $\alpha<1/2$ of $(1-o(1))\alpha n\sqrt{2/\pi}$ (the intuition is the top $\alpha n$ will be positive w.h.p. and so should be at least the expected absolute value of a Gaussian). – J.G Jun 28 '19 at 21:37
• @UthsavChitra in case you're interested, I've added a proof of the linear lower bound that is tight at $\alpha=1/2$. Hope this is helpful! – J.G Jun 28 '19 at 23:49
• Note that using these bounds you can derive asymptotic bounds on $\mathbb{E} X_{[k]}$, since deterministically $kX_{[k]} \leq \sum_{i=1}^k X_{[k]}$. Thus $\mathbb{E} X_{[k]} \leq \tfrac{1}{k}\mathbb{E} Y_k \leq \sqrt{\tfrac{2}{k}\log\tfrac{n}{k}}$. For example, if $k = o(n)$ as above, this gives $\mathbb{E} X_{[k]} \leq \sqrt{(2+o(1))\log \tfrac{n}{k}}$. – cdipaolo Jun 29 '19 at 17:15