In an age of identity politics, it’s hard to believe that ageism still runs rampant. But while more employers are joining the fight against many forms of discrimination, such as race, gender, and sexual orientation, ageism remains an issue in workplaces nationwide.
Changing working conditions, climbing prices, and debate about raising the retirement age are luring older Americans back to work, forcing a reckoning with deep-rooted bias that impacts nearly half of all employees over age 40..
To understand age discrimination and how it’s changed since similar research in 2021, Seniorliving.org surveyed 1,203 Americans about their experiences with ageism in the workplace. Their ages ranged from 40 to 60-plus, and 54 percent of them were women.
The survey concluded that age discrimination is widespread, underreported, and begins earlier than most might expect, according to Seniorliving.org. For instance:
- 47 percent of workers over 40 have experienced age discrimination or ageism, at companies of all sizes and to males and females.
- The typical age when age discrimination first begins is about 45.
- Though federal statistics show age discrimination has decreased over the last decade, nearly a third of discrimination reports go unreported. This is often because victims worry that nothing will be done.
- 52 percent of older workers said if they were to actively look for new jobs, their age would negatively impact their job searches.
Age-based employment discrimination was outlawed by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, which applies to private companies with 20 or more employees and all government agencies. Specifically, the law protects workers over age 40 against discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, and benefits.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates and enforces the law while recording all reported violations. Since 1997, the EEOC has received nearly 500,000 age discrimination claims. That number is about one-fifth of all employment discrimination claims. However, there has been a downward trend in age discrimination claims in recent years. Federal age discrimination claims fell nearly 9 percent from 2020 to 2021, and are down 45 percent over the past decade.
These numbers only tell part of the story, though. Seniorliving.org’s study revealed 49 percent of people who experienced on-the-job age discrimination reported the occurrence to a manager or to human resources. Additionally, many workers may be unaware of their rights and suffer discrimination without seeking protection. As the ADEA also prohibits harassment based on age, derogatory remarks that create offensive work environments or drive adverse employment decisions are also considered unlawful discrimination.
Forms of age discrimination reported by workers include assumptions about ability to learn new skills (the most-reported form at 19 percent), missed raises or promotions, less-desirable assignments or projects, bias in hiring and recruitment, reduced work hours, ageist harassment, remarks or jokes, and job losses through firing or layoffs.
In cases of businesses pressuring older workers to resign or retire, Chiquita Hall, an employment attorney, said employers “are pushing them out with an overwhelming amount of new changes. This has resulted in more forced resignations, buyouts, and terminations disguised as layoffs.”
States with the highest number of age-based charges are Nevada, Maine, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Illinois, according to EEOC statistics from 2021.
Source: Seniorliving.org, a research and resources site for economic and social issues affecting older adults.