New EEOC Report Confirms that Age Discrimination is Alive and Well

In late June, the EEOC issued a report on the state of age discrimination in the American workforce. And it confirms what older workers in even a robust job market are saying—it’s harder to find a job when you are over 50. Age discrimination remains a significant and costly problem for workers, their families, and the economy.

According to the report, most workers today will have 11 different jobs over the course of their career. But it takes older workers –the report refers to them as “experienced workers”—longer to find a job.

In the last 25 years, the number of workers 55 and over in the workforce has more than doubled. Baby Boomers aged 54-72 are remaining in the workforce rather than retiring, in part due to inadequate retirement savings and fears of dwindling government benefits, such as Social Security and Medicare. This population spends more time out of work, and looking for work, than similarly skilled younger workers.

This hits women particularly hard. The government report says that women age 55 and older are projected to make up over 25 percent of the women's labor force by 2024, which is almost double their share from 2000.

In a 2015 Tulane University study, researchers proved that age discrimination is rampant in hiring. They sent more than 40,000 resumes to 13,000 job openings posted online in 12 cities. They sent three resumes representing different age groups (young, middle-aged and senior) to each posting. Even though the fictitious candidates had similar skills, older applicants received far fewer responses than the young or middle-aged workers.

Like all discrimination, age discrimination thrives on myths and stereotypes, including that older workers are less motivated, less willing to engage in training and career development programs, more resistant to change, not as trusting, more likely to experience health problems that affect their work, and more vulnerable to work–family conflicts.

Yet research published in Personnel Psychology debunks five of the six myths. Regarding training, experienced workers are sometimes less willing to engage in training programs, but only because these tend to be geared toward younger, newer employees, the journal found.

Raising consciousness about age stereotypes is the most productive way to combat age discrimination. Highlighting the experience and judgment of older workers is another way to ensure they remain confident in their positions and productive for their employers.

Age discrimination may be difficult to prove in litigation, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and shouldn't be addressed.