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See How Age Discrimination Works

AARP experiment shows the barriers older workers must overcome

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When it comes to getting a job, people 40 and older don’t get treated like preferred customers. That’s the point illustrated by a small experiment AARP recently conducted in California.

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The organization set up a fake company called Basketacular that was giving away free gifts. But while customers over the age of 40 had to walk through a winding path of barriers just to get to the goods, younger customers could walk directly to the front. The older customers also had to contend with not-so subtle remarks from the salesperson suggesting that their patronage wasn’t particularly welcome.

This experiment was designed to show what many older workers deal with every day. When looking for a job, they often are forced to clear more hurdles than their younger peers face. When interacting with employers or recruiters, older workers also have to fight stereotypes based on age that can hurt them as a job candidate. 

Once they were told about what was really going on, some of the participants talked about their own experiences with bias in the workplace.

“I get the age discrimination a lot,” says a woman named Joyce, for whom the experiment exemplified what she has gone through in real life. “I’m unemployed right now, looking for a job. I was laid off when I was 60 years old, and I’ve been basically told time and time again: ‘You wouldn’t fit in with our team.’ I’m always judged more for my age than my résumé.”

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According to a 2018 AARP survey, 61 percent of older workers say that they have either seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Among the respondents who were unemployed, 74 percent said they had encountered age discrimination. The survey also found that women were more likely than men to have faced age bias in employment.

AARP continues to advocate for the rights of older workers. The organization currently is urging Congress to pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, which would strengthen protections for this group.

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