The number of aging workers in today’s workforce is on the rise. Data from AARP indicates that in 2018, workers over the age of 55 filled nearly half of new jobs, with many planning to continue their careers past the traditional age of retirement. In fact, as AARP reports, employees aged 65 and older make up the fastest growing segment of America’s workforce today.
Yet, despite this trend, ageist workplace practices persist. From biased assumptions around skill sets and relevancy to a looming sense of job insecurity, today’s late-career professionals face a unique set of obstacles rooted in age discrimination. And, as new research from Fairygodboss shows, the onset of ageism may start sooner than you’d think.
In a survey of 1,000 people over the age of 40, Fairygodboss found that just over 1 in 3 respondents (37%) who report experiencing workplace ageism say they were younger than 45 the first time it happened. Most of these respondents (62%) say this first brush occured when they were at a mid-level position in their career.
Interestingly, women and men report experiencing ageism in near-equal measure, with 30% of male respondents saying they’ve experienced it and 27% of female respondents saying the same. The most common form of ageism reported was receiving a negative age-based remark from a coworker, closely followed by respondents’ belief that they were passed over for a job due to their age. Thirty-two percent of respondents also shared they’ve been told they may be “overqualified” for a job after applying, and 19% said an interviewer has asked about their age.
Respondents who’ve experienced workplace ageism are 3.6x more likely to fear being pushed out of work because of their age, as compared to those who haven’t experienced this form of discrimination. Meanwhile, over half of respondents said they believe it will be difficult to keep their job or find a new job between the ages of 50 and 64.
Ultimately, to put an end to ageist practices and belief systems in the workplace, greater alignment on the true value of age-diverse workforces is needed. Take, for instance, our finding that less than half of respondents who haven’t faced workplace ageism believe age diversity makes teams more productive. In contrast, 65% of respondents who have experienced ageism believe older workers contribute unique value to the productivity of a team.
As with other forms of discrimination, communication around unconscious bias and the harm that comes from assigning an employee’s value to their age (or gender, or race, or any identity attribute) is clearly needed. Perhaps that’s why 57% of survey respondents believe employers should offer additional learning opportunities to all employees to combat ageism, with a similar majority stating employers should ensure they avoid discriminatory interview questions, too. For more recommendations on how employers can address ageism in their organization, download the full report.