March 01, 2017

Hiring discrimination increases with age

Hiring discrimination increases with age

A study has found “compelling evidence” that older workers, especially women, experience age discrimination in hiring.

The study was the largest of its kind. The researchers created over 40,000 fake resumes that were identical except for age and gender and submitted them online for more than 13,000 mostly lower-skilled jobs. It found that the response rate decreased as age went up and the disparity was higher for women than men.

That report comes at a pivotal time as the US population aged 65 and older is projected to rise sharply, which will increase the ratio of non-workers to workers and strain the social security system.

Age discrimination is difficult to prove, therefore the researchers set up a correspondence study. They created “realistic but fictitious” resumes for job applicants who had identical backgrounds and differed only by age and gender. The age was indicated by including the applicant’s high-school graduation year.

The researchers sent female resumes to openings for secretaries and administrative assistants and male resumes to help-wanted ads for janitor and security jobs. Both genders fake-applied for retail sales positions. Low-skilled jobs were chosen because employers are more likely to be familiar with applicants for high-skilled jobs and ignore unknown ones.

The oldest group of female applicants for administrative jobs had a callback rate of 7.6% versus 14.4% for the youngest group. In sales, their response rates were 18.5% versus 28.7% respectively. For male applicants in sales jobs, the oldest male applicants had a callback rate of 14.7% versus 20.9% for the youngest group.

In a longer paper on the research, lead author David Neumark suggests some theories as to why employers might discriminate against older workers. It could be that “some physical capabilities decline with age.” Employers might expect older workers to have health problems increasing absenteeism costs. Finally, employers might expect older workers to be nearer retirement, and are less willing to invest in them.

He had no evidence as to why discrimination was starker for older female workers other than that perhaps “appearance matters in our sample of low-skilled jobs, and the effects of aging on physical appearance are evaluated more harshly for women than men.”

Ulf Rinne suggests that “anonymous job applications have the potential to level the recruitment playing field” which means that callback rates should be no different for minority candidates than they are for majority candidates. However the evidence does not seem to support the desirability of a mandatory introduction of anonymous job applications in every context. Furthermore, anonymous job applications have their limits. They only target discrimination at the resume stage and combating discrimination in education or promotions is beyond the scope of this approach.

The full report is available to read here.

March 1 is Zero Discrimination Day. Follow the day’s developments with the hashtag #ZeroDiscrimination

View our articles on workplace discrimination.