Three in five workers over 45 have experienced age discrimination at work, AARP The Magazine reports.
Age discrimination is getting old.
After all, more than a third of the workforce (almost 35%) will be 50-plus by 2022, and Americans ages 65 and older are expected to be the fastest-growing segment in the workforce through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And yet, three in five older employees have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, according to an AARP The Magazine report released this week.
The survey asked 3,900 adults ages 45-plus last fall (just after the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967) about what, if any, ageism they were subjected to on the job. Turns out, it’s quite a lot: One in four have heard negative comments about their age from a boss or coworker, and 12% suspected they were passed up for a promotion or another chance of getting ahead due to their age.
What’s more, almost half (44%) of those looking for work recently said that they were asked for their birth date or other age-related information — which is illegal, unless an employer is confirming that you are at least 18. And 16% of those surveyed believed that they weren’t hired for a job that they applied for because of their age.
IT veteran Hanh Briggs, 57, took a buyout last winter, and decided to take advantage of her six months of severance pay to learn coding through Udacity’s online courses. She figured this would bolster her skills set, and could also lead to her developing an app or two of her own.
But as the Columbus, Ohio coder has started filling out job applications, she’s noticed that the posts have a subtle way to weed out older candidates. “(They) always ask for when you graduated, whether it’s high school or college, and the majority of them are required fields that you have to fill in … or you can’t move on to the next page,” she told Moneyish. “So if I put that I graduated high school in 1980, everyone is gonna know how old I will be. You fill it out, and of course, you never hear from anyone.
“It makes me feel obsolete. It makes me feel old,” she said.
Susan K. Weinstock from the AARP noted that job websites often run pictures of happy employees who appear to be in their mid-20s to early 30s, “with not a gray hair,” she told Moneyish. “I heard of someone applying for a job who was in his 50s, and they wanted this GPA from college. I mean, come on,” she added. “Or (job listings) put subtle things in that may dissuade (older applicants) like, ‘We have a fun, party atmosphere here.’”
Cindy Kendall was applying for a position at a nonprofit recently — and the interviewer actually started laughing while asking about her five- and 10-year career goals. Kendall is 54.
“I think they are used to interviewing 20-something college students,” she mused to Moneyish. “It just goes to show that they aren’t equipped to manage a multigenerational workplace. So I was like, ‘OK — this place is not a match.’”
Even if Kendall was planning to retire when the average U.S. worker does at 63, she would still have almost a decade to continue learning new skills, making more money and taking on more leadership roles at whatever workplace she lands in. But in fact, 8.9 million workers ages 65 and older were still working in 2016, according to the BLS. And the AARP reports that more than a quarter (27%) of Americans age 45 and up don’t expect to ever fully leave the workforce. Most keep hustling because they need the money (42%) or to support their families (12%). One in 10 needs to save more for retirement, and another 10% simply enjoy working.
So after decades working her way up from a high school Spanish teacher to an instructional technology specialist and ultimately assistant superintendent in Lansing, Mich., Kendall is now focused on pivoting deeper into technology as a professional consultant. And she’s also learned how to code through Udacity, which she envisions will allow her to do gig work even after she and her husband “retire” eventually.
“We want to be able to travel more, and live in various places — and still be able to work remotely,” she explained.
So if so many Americans working past the traditional retirement age, then why does this age stigma still exist? After all, Ray Peeler from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission told Moneyish that they received 18,376 complaints of age discrimination in 2017 — which was a decrease from the 20,857 charges lodged the year before, but still one fifth of the 80,000 to 100,000 complaints filed in a typical year. And the average number of age discrimination complaints has hovered around 20,000 for several years.
“Part of the reason is that we live in a youth-oriented culture, and these myths remain that older workers are less productive than younger people, they are technophobic and they can’t learn new skills, and they call out sick more,” explained Dr. Sara J. Czaja, director of the new Center on Aging and Behavioral Research at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. “But when you look at the scientific literature, there is nothing to substantiate these myths whatsoever. They do not have higher absenteeism. They can, in fact, learn to interact with new technology if they are given the opportunity to train.”
As Weinstock noted, “Who invented the internet? It wasn’t the millennials!” (In truth, Bill Gates is 62; Jeff Bezos is 54; Tim Cook is 57; and Steve Jobs was 56 when he passed.)
Plus, as almost half (44%) of employers complain that American workers lack soft skills such a critical thinking, communication and emotional intelligence, Weinstock points out that older workers have these talents in spades. “These are things that you gain in a lifetime of working: collaboration, dependability, empathy and the ability to listen,” she said. “And when you are in the workforce longer, you can maintain a sense of calm under pressure, because you’ve seen a lot of things, and you’ve persevered through a lot of things.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved