The days when help-wanted postings could explicitly say people 40 and older “need not apply” may be gone, but biased language continues to lock experienced workers out of jobs, according to new research.
Employment experts have long said that job postings containing phrases that are subtly ageist can deter older adults from applying for those openings. For example, “cultural fit” might mean that the employer is seeking people who are close in age to the people who already work there. “Energetic person” could imply the business wants to hire someone younger who is physically active.
Terms like these are common in job postings, AARP found a few years ago. But proving that language like this actually prevents older job seekers from even applying for those jobs has been trickier. That’s where the new study comes in. Researchers from the University of California-Irvine and the University of Liverpool spent a year posting job ads in 14 cities nationwide to see how ageist stereotypes might affect who would apply. Their experiment, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that older adults were in fact much less likely to respond to job postings that included ageist language.
“Using language that explicitly deters older workers from applying is already illegal” under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the researchers say, “but the subtler usage of ageist language that we study suggests that job-ad language that would not be flagged as explicitly illegal can still have pernicious effects on older workers.”
Older workers feel the impact of this age bias in two ways. First, of course, they miss out on jobs that they might be qualified to fill but that perceived bias prevents them from applying for. Second, this type of bias is largely overlooked in age discrimination law. Even though ageist language can deter people from job opportunities, as the new study finds, these job seekers have hardly any pathways to fight back legally.
Raising awareness of the possible harm biased job postings produce is one way to help older job seekers.