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Age Discrimination “Commonplace” in Today’s Work Environment

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Age discrimination in the workplace should be a thing of the past. After all, as the workforce ages, one might argue that older workers should expect to be treated with a measure of respect, even deference. Why should these experienced, capable men and women face workplace discrimination based solely on their birth date?

Yet, sadly, age discrimination remains remarkably common, according to an analysis of recent workplace studies. That’s the conclusion reported in this recent article from USA Today.  Reporter Daniel de Visé writes that ageism on the job is rampant in this so-called enlightened age, and, if left unchecked, this age bias can destroy the retirement plans of otherwise qualified workers. Unfortunately, age bias remains easy to detect but tough to prove. Let’s take a deeper look. We’ve also asked Rajiv Nagaich to weigh in on this sensitive topic.

Age Discrimination is Widespread, Surveys Demonstrate

You would think, with the wider prevalence of older employees in the workforce these days, that there would be less age discrimination. But, according to de Visé, this is not the case.

In fact, according to a new AARP report, a whopping two-thirds of adults over 50 believe that older workers face discrimination in the workplace, and of that group, 90 percent believe that this ageism is “commonplace.”

De Visé writes, “The finding, based on a series of surveys in 2022 and 2023, comes at a time when America’s labor pool is conspicuously aging. The 65-and-up workforce has quadrupled in size since the mid-1980s. Nearly one-quarter of the workforce is 55 or older.”

Age Discrimination is the Last “Acceptable” Prejudice

“Ageism is really one of the last acceptable ‘isms’ that society tolerates,” says Heather Tinsley-Fix, a senior adviser at AARP. “We’re generally speaking of a society that really values youth, not only physically, but in these beliefs that everything good is young.”

Ageism is also challenging to combat because the potential victims can be difficult to identify and defend. As de Visé puts it: “Age discrimination might strike a ballplayer at 30, an actor at 40, a news anchor at 50, a law partner at 60. Federal protections kick in at 40.”

Fallout from Age Discrimination Can Be “Swift and Devastating”

Moreover, the consequences of such discrimination on an aging worker can be disastrous: “negative evaluations, layoff threats, buyout offers, demotions, pay cuts,” as de Visé writes. “And all of this comes on the heels of peak earning years, in workers’ 40s and early 50s.”

Ageism can be subtle. It could be as indirect as a job ad specifying the need for “digital natives,” or as obvious as a requirement to list your graduation year on a job application. In an office setting, as de Visé explains, it could be a younger coworker laughing off a “senior moment” or promotions being used to advance “the next generation.” It could even be the gradual reduction of an older worker’s duties.

“You might suddenly start to get carefully sidelined, not asked to participate in more innovative projects,” Tinsley-Fix says. “You might find yourself getting subtly cut out of those meetings. An employee who’s had a stellar record starts to get mediocre performance reviews, where nothing has changed.”

How Age Discrimination Derailed One Man’s Career

De Visé tells us the story of Stuart Lipper, a New Jersey native who was “cruising through his career,” working his way up to his dream job as a business school administrator.

But due to a 2012 layoff, at the age of 56, Lipper lost the associate dean job. Nevertheless, he pushed on to search for a better job, as dean of students. But the search was fruitless. “And just nothing,” he recalls. “Crickets. … I remember this feeling of, ‘No one’s even getting back to me.’”

Lipper pulled back a little, applying for jobs with lesser titles, but he still got no bites. The search was seemingly endless, but he finally landed a position at an international business school. Then, in 2018 at the age of 62, he was laid off again. He recalls, “I remember taking that train ride back to New Jersey and thinking to myself, ‘This might really be the end for me.’”

Sadly, as de Visé adds, “In a way, it was. Lipper applied near and far, even trolling for jobs he had held before. No offers came. Lipper was forced into retirement at 62. He is 68 now. He had planned to work till 70.” It’s been a difficult transition. Lipper says, “If I got a phone call today to take over a graduate business program or do something exciting, I wouldn’t hesitate.”

(Check out this recent Blog article explaining why working longer is not a sound retirement strategy.)

Age Discrimination Can Start with a Birthdate on an Application

The new AARP report draws on a series of surveys of over-50 Americans in 2022 and 2023 by AARP in conjunction with NORC, the research organization.

De Visé writes (emphasis ours): “Among the findings: One in 5 older adults said they had personally experienced age discrimination since turning 40. Roughly one-quarter said they had heard negative comments about an older co-worker’s age.Half of older job seekers said they had been asked to provide a birthdate on an application.”

There was, famously, a mass exodus of older Americans out of the workforce at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, driven by layoffs and health concerns. It has been hard for many who still want to work to return.

De Visé explains, “Employment dipped by 15 percent, or nearly 6 million workers, for people 55 and over in the early months of 2020, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. Many have since returned to the workforce, but not without considerable effort. Older workers tend to stay unemployed longer than younger workers, AARP research has found.”

Working Remotely Puts Older Workers at a Technological Disadvantage

Experts say that virtual work—which gained a huge foothold during the pandemic—proved a mixed blessing for older workers. On the one hand, working from home has been “a boon” for older Americans at risk of ageism, who no longer have to worry about grueling commutes and dealing with difficult exchanges with younger coworkers. 

However, virtual work carries its own issues. Stewart Schwab, a law professor at Cornell, notes that “there’s more technology involved. And for some older workers, that alone makes them a little more uncomfortable.” De Visé adds, “For older job applicants, ageism can lie a Zoom call away.”

Tinsley-Fix takes a starker view of the more virtual emphasis in employment, saying, “I think the rise in remote interviewing has harmed older candidates. If they haven’t been thinking of you as an older worker, and that camera goes on, a trigger goes off.”

Guard Against Age Discrimination: Three Practical Tips

De Visé provides the following tips, from AARP and other experts, for older workers to minimize the risk of ageism in the job application process.

Less is more: It’s ideal to keep your resume to two pages, and to focus on the most recent experience. Also, there’s no need to include dates in the distant past, even for your credentials.

“We encourage older workers to really focus their resumés on the last 10 years of experience,” one expert says. “Because that’s really the most relevant experience that they’re bringing to the table.”

A related tip, according to AARP: don’t put your street address at the top. That convention is becoming archaic, and it exposes you to potential fraud.

Ditch that AOL address: “Clinging to an account on an old-school email service – no offense, AOL and Hotmail – can tag you as an old person,” de Visé writes. He recommends getting a new one on a newer service, such as Gmail, and picking a professional-sounding handle that includes your name.

Bot-proof your resume: The use of bots is becoming more and more prevalent to weed out applications before they even get to a human. “To get past the robo-gatekeeper,” de Visé advises, and concludes, “make sure your resume includes keywords specific to your industry. If certain terms pop up again and again in the job listing, put them in your resume.”

Rajiv’s Take: Are We Ourselves Guilty of Age Discrimination?

We asked Rajiv for his view on this issue, and – as usual – he had a unique insight. “Typically,” he says, “when we talk about age discrimination, we focus on employers and businesses.  But think about it: a big reason why ageism is an accepted discrimination is because most of us live it in our own lives, whether we admit it or not.”

He explains, “Let’s say you have to choose someone to act as your agent. You have two choices, one who is 42 years old and the other who is 78 years old. Who would you pick?  Based on my experience, you’ll probably choose the 42-year-old.”

Rajiv speaks from decades of legal practice. “I hear it all the time,” he relates. “Clients say to me, ‘I cannot name my mom as my personal agent because she is 78 years old.”  Then I ask, ‘Is your mother able and willing to pay bills, file taxes, and manage your affairs as needed, even though she is 78?’ Often the client answers, ‘Yes, I suppose she is.’  This is an example of the worst sin of ageism: to assume that someone is less capable solely based on their age.”

The bottom line is clear, Rajiv says. “For us as a society to eliminate age bias, we must start with ourselves.  It is not the age, but the capacity and ability that we have to look to.  We have to change our own minds about growing older. And that takes work.”

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(originally reported at

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