Some economists believe that one solution is to extend the working life of older labour-force participants. But a new study has found that discrimination is making that difficult.
According to David Neumark and Ian Burn at the University of California at Irvine and Patrick Button at Tulane University, older women face disproportionately higher rates of ageism during the hiring process than older men.
“We might, therefore, conclude that the really strong evidence from our study establishes that it is harder for older female workers to find jobs,” the researchers said. “In contrast, consideration of the biases we take up in this paper leads to results that appear to undermine the uniform evidence from past studies that there is age discrimination in hiring against older men.”
The researchers developed 40,000 fake résumés of workers both male and female in three age groups: 29-31, 49-51, and 64-66.
The researchers applied to a variety of online job postings falling in four broad categories — retail sales, administrative assistants, janitors, and security guards — in 12 cities across the US.
The researchers used a number of randomised variables in crafting the résumés, picking the jobs and even the way the résumés were titled (FirstLastResume vs. LastFirstResume vs. FirstLast) to help make the study as unbiased as possible.
The results were pretty definitive, according to the researchers.
For all but one job type, older applicants received fewer responses than their middle-aged and young counterparts. Additionally, applications from young people were responded to quicker.
There was, however, one idiosyncratic element that stood out:
For the one occupation where we study both men and women — sales — we find considerably stronger evidence of discrimination against older women than older men … Second, more generally across the many analyses we present, the evidence of age discrimination against older women is strong and robust, while the evidence for older men is less clear. We only consistently find evidence of age discrimination for one of three occupations in which we study men (security), and in this case the evidence is not statistically strong. We might, therefore, conclude that the really strong evidence from our study establishes that it is harder for older female workers to find jobs.
The researchers present two possible explanations for why women are more likely to be targeted by ageism than men.
- The law doesn’t protect women as well. “One is that age discrimination laws do less to protect older women who may suffer from both age and sex discrimination. Because the law that protects women (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) is separate from the law that protects older workers (the ADEA), ‘intersectional’ claims of age discrimination against older women are difficult to bring before the courts.”
- Discrimination based on appearance. “Second, older women may in fact experience more discrimination than older men, because physical appearance matters more for women and because age detracts more from physical appearance for women than for men.”
The researchers say that finding a way to combat this discrimination could help extend the working life of older women, and therefore ease pressures on the US economy.