Updated May 19th, 2020
Workers over the age of 65 are the fastest growing workforce segment. People are working later in life both because they are living longer and healthier, and also out of necessity due to changes to retirement benefits and low retirement savings. Unfortunately this workforce group faces extra hurdles when it comes to securing, maintaining, and thriving in a job. Employers use language like “tech-savvy” and “digital native” in job descriptions to discourage older people from applying, and pass over senior workers for training and promotion opportunities. Despite protections, the majority of older Americans in the workplace today have faced some type of age discrimination.
What is Age Discrimination?
Age discrimination in the workplace means treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age. While states vary in the level of protections they give workers, federal protections cover those over the age of 40 from discrimination through the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. These protections cover hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs, compensation, benefits, job assignments and training, and also make harassment based on a person’s age illegal. The law provides some protection for older Americans, but age discrimination can be difficult to prove and is still a big problem in many workplaces.
- Seniors in the Workplace
- How often does Age Discrimination Happen?
- Age Discrimination by Industry
- Taking Action
Seniors in the workplace
As of February 2019, over 20% of Americans aged 65 or older are working or looking for work, double the 10% who were in the labor force in 19851.
By 2024, workers aged 55 and older will represent 25% of the nation’s workforce with the fastest annual growth rates among those aged 65-and-older2.
67% of surveyed workers aged 40-65 plan to continue to work after they turn 662.
29% of Boomers ages 65 to 72 were working or looking for work, outpacing the labor market engagement of the Silent Generation (21%) and the Greatest Generation (19%) when they were the same age3.
Those with higher education are more likely to remain in the workforce longer. The share of adults that are 65 years or older and working that have at least a college degree increased from 25 percent in 1985 to 53 percent in 20191.
How Often Does Age Discrimination Happen?
Between 1997 and 2018, approximately 423,000 U.S. workers filed age discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision, making up 22% of all workplace discrimination claims4.
More than 21% of surveyed workers over 40 have faced age discrimination, and 36% believe their age has prevented them from getting a job since they turned 402.
More men than women believe age to have been a factor in finding a new job or advancing their career2.
Nearly 1 in 4 workers age 45 and older have been subjected to negative comments about their age from supervisors or coworkers4.
3 in 5 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace4.
When filling out online applications, one study found older adults were brought in for interviews at a rate similar to younger applicants. After a face to face interview however, the older candidates were offered jobs at a rate 40% lower than younger candidates with similar skills5.
About half of full-time workers between the ages of 50 and 54 will lose their jobs involuntarily6.
Bias against older workers cost the U.S. economy an estimated $850 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) in 20187.
Discrimination by Industry
Tech companies are known for hiring younger workers. The average median employee age at 17 top tech companies was 32, compared with 42 for the total U.S. workforce4.
In 2019 Google paid $11 million to settle the claims of more than 200 job applicants who said they were discriminated against because of their age4, and in 2020 PwC settled with 3,500 class members for $11.6 million8.
The US government enforces mandatory retirement ages for many types of employees such as air traffic controllers (56) and federal law enforcement officers (57)9.
37% of startup founders believe startup investors bias against founders based on age (compared to 28% on gender and 26% on race)10.
Only 40% of those surveyed who experienced age discrimination filed a charge or complaint with the relevant government agencies or their employers. Only 48% of those who filed a complaint did so through a government agency instead of only their employer2.
Over 50% of co-workers who witnessed instances of age discrimination did not report it2.
Educating people about age discrimination makes them more likely to report it. 65% of survey respondents with training reported age discrimination when witnessed vs. 49% of overall respondents2.
Job postings with discriminatory language are very common, but represent only 4% of age discriminations in hiring allegations made to the EEOC in 20189.
Fighting age discrimination became more difficult for workers after a 2009 Supreme Court ruling against Jack Gross. Workers now need to prove that age was the deciding factor in an action that harmed their employment, not just a motivating factor11. There is a new bi-partisan bill on Capitol Hill aimed at making age discrimination easier to prove.
Offering more pathways to get additional training would have helped 55 percent of older adults to continue working7.
Of 205,355 total age discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC from 2010 to 2017, just 1% resulted in a finding of discrimination9.
Even if an age discrimination suit against an employer is won, by US law the most a worker can be awarded is twice his/ her lost back pay plus attourney fees. This contributes to an unwillingness to pursue litigation by victims of discrimination4.
- https://www.aarp.org/work/working-at-50-plus/info- 2020/underemployment-age-discrimination.html?intcmp%3DAE-WOR-W50-AD-R2-C1
- https://www.aarp.org/work/working-at-50-plus/info-2019/age-discrimination-court- cases.html