One in five of U.S. workers age 40 and older have experienced age discrimination in the workplace, according to the 2019 Ageism in the Workplace Study, published by Hiscox, the international specialist insurer.
The study surveyed 400 full-time U.S. workers age 40 and older.
The power of Boomers
The aging workforce is formidable, and they’re not slowing down or stepping aside: by 2024, workers 55 or older will represent 25% of the entire country’s workforce, with the fastest annual growth rates among the 65+ set. A clear majority (67%) of workers surveyed plans to keep working after they turn 66.
Ageism is right there alongside a lot of workers. The number of age-related discrimination charges filed with employers and the EEOC by workers 65 and over doubled from 1990 to 2017.
- According to the survey, 26% of workers feel that some risk exists of them losing their job because of their age.
- And more than 1 in 3 workers feel their age has prevented them from getting a job since they turned 40.
- 51 years old is the age U.S. workers expect that they’re most likely to experience workplace age discrimination.
Although 20% experienced age discrimination, only 40% filed a charge or complaint. Workers’ reasons for holding back included the fear of creating a hostile work environment (54%), as well as a lack of understanding of how to actually file a complaint (24%.)
People who saw the instances of discrimination were unlikely to say anything. Nearly 37% of workers witnessed an incidence, but the majority (51%) didn’t report it. Witnesses were worried about retaliation from their employers (62%).
Gender and other stereotypes
Older workers also face a number of damaging stereotypes which they feel holds them back. The most popular stereotypes are:
- Resistant to change and learning new skills: 66%
- Don’t understand or want to use technology: 54%
- Cost too much to keep employed: 39%
- Complacent or unmotivated: 21%
- Difficult to manage: 20%
Men and women also experience age discrimination differently. For example:
- 43% of men believe their age has prevented them from finding a new job, while 30% of women say the same.
- 39% of men believe their age has held them back from promotions, while only 24% of women agree.
- Half of men say they have experienced or witnessed age discrimination, while only 38% of women say the same.
Age discrimination has a cost
Inside the workplace, age discrimination can result in demotivated employees, which can have a negative effect on productivity. Experienced (meaning older) workers leaving means a loss of institutional knowledge.
Older workers are in a constant state of insecurity: if they leave their job, 59% believe they won’t get a new job due to their age. And 43% have left a company because of age discrimination – either because of something they experienced, or something they saw.
Outside the workplace, older workers on average have the longest periods of unemployment when compared to other age groups, and they are likely to have to take a pay cut once they get a new job.
Finally, $810.4 million is the amount paid to settle age discrimination charges filed with the EEOC between 2010-2018 (not including litigation.)
Perhaps we can only fight back with humor.
As comedienne Tina Fey said, “So, my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this person in between me and what I want to do?'”