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Age Bias in the Workplace

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, enacted fifty years ago, prohibits blatant discrimination on the basis of an employee’s age.  Yet, age discrimination is alive and well in the workplace.

David Neumark, a professor of economics at the University of California, Irvine and two other economists conducted a study to test whether non-prohibited age discrimination takes place in the United States.  They sent out 40,000 resumes for real jobs, each of which were identical for a given job except for the age of the applicant.  

The researchers found that the call-back rate drops from young applicants to middle-aged applicants and drops even more from middle-aged applicants to older applicants.  The drop in call-backs for women is even greater.

Although employers cannot advertise a job and state: “Applicants over 50 need not apply,” which would be blatant age discrimination, they can advertise jobs asking for applicants with, for example, three to five years’ experience or recent college graduates.

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill to help clarify the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to close some of the loopholes in currently acceptable age bias.  But as Ina Jaffe, a correspondent for National Public Radio, reported: “Whatever happens in Congress or in the courts, discrimination against older workers is going to be a bigger issue if for no other reason than people are living longer lives and wanting—and needing—to work longer, too.”