Older Workers Still Feel the Effects of Age Discrimination
Most older Americans who work do so out of economic necessity, and many believe they are not treated fairly on the job because of their age. Nevertheless, a range of diverse motivations drive a continuation of work life.
In a new national survey of adults over age 45 by AARP, 61% of respondents said they have either seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace and 38% of those believe the practice is “very common.” Older women, African-Americans, Hispanics and those who are unemployed were more likely to feel they were the subject of discrimination.
Looking to the Law for Backup
Coming at a time just after the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the survey underscored continued bias against older Americans looking for jobs and seeking promotions. This is happening despite the fact that seniors make up an increasingly larger portion of the workforce. By 2022, nearly 35% of workers will be age 50+.
Over 90% of older Americans surveyed by AARP supported strengthening the nation’s age discrimination laws—59% strongly support a change and 32% somewhat agree they should be improved.
More than half of older workers who have seen or experienced age discrimination indicate they believe it starts when workers are in their 50s.
What does age discrimination look like in the workplace? For about one-quarter of those surveyed, it has meant hearing negative remarks related to their older age from a colleague or supervisor, while 16% cited not getting hired for a job they applied for because of their age; 12%, meanwhile, cited being passed up for a promotion or another chance to get ahead.
Yet despite the concern, just 3% have ever made an official complaint about age discrimination—indicating the problem may be more widespread than is documented.
Working for Finances
Age as it relates to work is a critical issue because as Americans live longer, the need for reliable employment to support themselves and others increases.
Americans age 45+ continue to work primarily because they need the money (42%) or they need to support other family members (12%), according to the survey. About 10% said they need to save more for retirement and another 10% said they enjoy working.
Most commonly, older workers said they will work to stay mentally active (91% very or somewhat important) and for extra money to buy the things they want (87%). Other reasons: they want to work or enjoy it (83%), to have something interesting to do (83%), to stay physically active (82%) and to financially support their family (80%). More than a quarter (27%) do not expect to ever fully leave the workforce.
Uncertainty About Job Status
Older works tend to stay on the job longer than their younger cohorts. Over one-third of those surveyed by AARP have been in their current job for more than 15 years.
When asked how likely they were to lose their job in the next year, just 4% of respondents thought it was very likely, 14% said somewhat likely, 42% not very likely, and 40% not likely at all. About one-third consider the reason for being laid off would be linked to their age.
Employed older workers were somewhat confident (38%) that they could find another job within three months and 25% were very confident. Age discrimination is the top reason for pessimism among those who did not think they could land a new position—nearly half (45%) consider it a major reason.
The AARP survey was conducted online in September 2017 to a national sample of 3,900 adults ages 45+ who were working full-time, part-time, or looking for work. For more information, contact Rebecca Perron at email@example.com. For media inquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perron, Rebecca. The Value of Experience: AARP Multicultural Work and Jobs Study. Washington, DC: AARP Research, July 2018. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00177.000