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Age Discrimination Common in Workplace, Survey Says

AARP finds that older adults stay employed for financial reasons but also seek fulfillment and respect

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Nearly 2 out of 3 workers ages 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job, according to the results of a wide-ranging AARP workplace survey released Thursday. Among the 61 percent of respondents who reported age bias, 91 percent said they believe that such discrimination is common. 

To learn more about what older workers think about workplace issues ranging from age discrimination to income to interactions with coworkers, AARP surveyed 3,900 people over age 45 who either were employed or looking for work. The overall results of the Value of Experience survey show that while most older Americans continue to work for financial reasons, they also want to be in roles in which they gain personal fulfillment and respect. Some survey participants believe that the prevalence of age bias could affect both of those career goals.

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For example, 16 percent of respondents believe they did not get a job they applied for, 12 percent said they had been passed over for a promotion, and 7 percent said they had been laid off, fired or forced out of a job — all because of age discrimination. Among survey participants who thought it was somewhat likely they could lose their job in the next year, 33 percent said they felt they were vulnerable because of their age. And 76 percent of all respondents said age bias could mean it would take them longer than three months to find a new position. 

AARP and other advocates for experienced workers have been collaborating with employers to counteract stereotypes and age bias that might affect older workers’ career opportunities. More than 700 companies now participate in AARP’s Employer Pledge Program, in which they commit to recruit people from all age groups and consider all applicants equally.

“Older workers are a great value to employers,” says Susan Weinstock, vice president of financial resilience programming for AARP. “Employers are looking for people with soft skills, like being good with teamwork or collaboration or being able to write well. These are skills older workers have developed through their years of experience.”

Respondents overwhelmingly think that being appreciated for their abilities is important, with 93 percent saying that “a boss who treats you with respect” would be a requirement before taking a new job. Ninety percent said they would need “coworkers that treat you with respect.”

“The reality is that older workers are appreciated by many employers for their commitment to being on the job,” says Kathleen Christensen, director of the Sloan Foundation’s Working Longer program.

Beyond concerns about age discrimination, the overall survey results make it clear that income is the key factor influencing older adults’ employment decisions. Indeed, when asked to rate which factors most influenced their choice to work or look for a job, the most popular response (87 percent) was “need the money,” and 84 percent said they wanted “to save more for retirement.”  

For some adults, retirement doesn’t mean they completely stop working. According to the survey, 13 percent of older people said they were retired but either working or looking for work.

“The very notion of retirement is changing,” says Christensen. “Now there are all sorts of variations. Some older workers may be doing it for survival income, while others are working to pay for travel and vacations.”

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The new term for this return to work despite officially retiring is “unretire,” Weinstock explains. 

AARP conducted the Value of Experience survey in September and October of 2017. The survey was weighted to be representative of the national population.

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