Age discrimination in the United States

In 2007, the United States' economy went into recession amidst a financial crisis. As a result, the unemployment rate within the U.S. has risen, with people over the age of 50 are facing record unemployment for their age group.[1] Factors that may affect employers' decisions to hire or retain older workers include:

  • older workers may be more expensive to employ than younger ones,
  • older workers may lack up-to-date skills,
  • older workers may retire before an employer recovers hiring and training costs.

These concerns are mostly unfounded, but they are widespread.[2]

Reasons for labor supply by older workersEdit

People in the United States may start to contemplate retirement around the age of 62, when they become eligible for retirement benefits through the Social Security program. However, Social Security benefits are not generous, and without other retirement savings or a pension plan, many Americans want or need to continue to work. Americans who seek Social Security benefits before reaching full retirement age will receive a reduced benefit.[1] Many retirees hold jobs to supplement their Social Security benefits.

Though companies may be reluctant to hire an elderly person, there are many benefits for an elderly person to have a job and be working. One benefit is that having a job can help decrease the mortality rate within the elderly.[3] In addition to living longer, one study found that the elderly that worked part-time had higher life satisfaction.[4]

Benefits of employing older workersEdit

In addition to the elderly benefiting from working, the companies employing elderly workers can also have several benefits. One study found that workforce professionals had stronger moral and ethical aptitudes, placed a greater importance on work in their lives, and disliked wasting time, more so than those of college students that were new in the working world.[5] In comparison to younger workers, elderly workers were found to be safer, have less counterproductive work behaviors, less work place aggression, less likely to abuse substances on the job, and less likely to be tardy to work.[6] Elderly workers also tend to be more loyal to a company and are able to use their previous work experience to help develop products, processes, and different approaches that help with organizational competitiveness.[7]

Reasons for age discriminationEdit

Most large companies choose to offer health care and insurance to all of their employees. The older-generation workers often require more benefits from the company due to their age. As a result, because older people are more likely to have health concerns and issues, they are many times the first to be cut from a company. While many age discrimination claims have been filed and have increased drastically, they are very hard to prove and charge against a company.[8]

There are many reasons for the workplace age discrimination. As of the 2010s, people are living longer because of healthier lifestyles and advances in medicine. People are also working longer because there is no mandatory retirement age, economic slowdowns diminish savings, and there has been a decline in defined-benefit retirement plans. Thus, more older people are interested in seeking and holding employment.

There are many reasons why older workers may have a difficult time finding work after being laid off. Many older workers were employed by the same employer for many years, and in some cases that may have been their only job during their entire career.[1] Many older workers are less likely to be skilled at job-seeking, as they haven’t had to search for employment in many years.[1] Also, as the years have passed, companies have turned to more efficient means by offering applications only online. However, while the current generation relies on technology, many older workers may be accustomed to older methods of performing the same labor. Some may find it difficult to use a computer, whether to find and apply for jobs or in the workplace.[1]

Because many of the people in the older generation are less likely to have skills on the computer, their technological inabilities also hold them back from being hired.[1] As the years have passed, many companies have begun to focus on using the internet and other programs on the computer, making it more likely they will hire a younger worker that is capable of using technology over an older person that doesn’t know how.[1] This lack of knowledge means that companies would have to provide more training for the elderly person than they would often have to provide for a younger employee. This can be costly and time consuming for companies.[9] Older adults often resist the use of computers for various reasons, such as impaired eyesight and hearing, arthritis and other physical ailments, and reduced cognitive skills, including memory loss and short attention spans, which make obtaining information from the Web more challenging. Learning how to effectively utilize new technology for the old or elderly can be more demanding due to the fact that learning new skills is stressful both mentally and physically.[10]

The unemployment issue among the older generation not only creates problems for the specific age group, but it also causes policy issues around the nation.[8] The government makes decisions on how to solve age-related discrimination because with this group of people out of work, the older generation is unable to be self-sufficient during a large part of their adult life, a time when they are more likely to have health issues.[8] Also, these people are nearing the time when they will no longer be able to work, and may not be prepared or have the financial means to take care of themselves. As a result, policy makers must try to solve the issue of unemployment by creating more jobs. However, they also must try to create a policy that offers benefits for the older people that are unemployed because they are more likely to be unemployed longer than others.[2]


One researcher decided to make an experiment to test if age discrimination actually exists. For the experiment she created 4,000 mock female résumés and sent them to different companies throughout Boston, Massachusetts as well as St. Petersburg, Florida.[2] Each résumé included the date that the fictitious applicant graduated from high school which indicated the age of each person to the company. The ages of the applicants on the résumés ranged from 35 to 62 years old. The results of the study showed that a younger person was 40 percent more likely to be hired than an older applicant of 50 years or older at the designated companies. As a result, the study proved that companies do often age discriminate against specific groups, especially the older generation.[2]

Another study found that it is not uncommon for employers to use stereotypes to rationalize discriminating in the hiring or firing of older workers, the first of which pertains to the changing needs of the market. For example, it is often assumed that older workers are ill-equipped to keep up with new technologies. This presumption sometimes excludes them from job opportunities. A second reason is the perceived cost of older workers. Older workers sometimes command higher salaries and receive pensions upon retirement. This may be seen by some employers to run counter to their economic profit motives. [11]

According to studies, over the past few years[when?] the poverty rate for the group of people that range from 55–64 years old increased from 8.6 to 9.4, which is the second largest increase for that group since August 1983.[8] One of the reasons that caused this increase in the poverty rate in the older generation is because they are oftentimes discriminated against by companies because of their age. Many companies find the older people as a group act as more of a cost than an asset to the company.[8] Some argue that younger people may discriminate against older workers because they don't like them, or that they believe older workers are not motivated or lack current job skills.[8]


In order to reduce age discrimination in the United States, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), a law that provides certain employment protections to workers who are over the age of forty, who work for an employer who has twenty or more employees. For protected workers, the ADEA prohibits discrimination at all levels of employment, from recruitment and hiring, through the employment relationship, and through decisions for layoffs or termination of the employment relationship.[12]

A common solution to become qualified for more jobs and have more opportunities to exit unemployment is to go back to school, whether that is high school or college.[13] Many of the older people do not have a complete high school or college education; therefore, and as a result they do not have the correct training for many jobs that are currently available.[13] However, many older people have found that returning to school would force them to incur more costs than they would if they didn’t go back to school. Taking a class at a local college could cost several thousand dollars. If a person is only a few years away from reaching the age of retirement, they may find it less costly to endure a poor standard of living for a few years and then get their Social Security instead of using part of their limited resources for classes that may never offer them any aid.[13] Another solution for the older generation to become qualified for more jobs is to take instructional courses on how to use computers. Instructional courses may need to incorporate varied instructional styles such as introducing new material and building on prior knowledge by using direct instruction followed by opportunities to integrate and practice new information. Instructors must understand how to best deliver instruction to senior learners in order to provide effective, engaging instruction. Ideal learning environments are ones that are flexible and sensitive to the needs of the senior learner. Once older people gain the skills to use a computer, they will have a greater chance of being hired for a job.[14] An alternative solution is to move to areas of the country that have a better job market. However, older people are more likely to own more assets such as land and their houses. As a result, it would be more difficult and possibly less beneficial for an older person to move and leave these behind.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Rich, Motoko. “For the Unemployed Over 50, Fears of Never Working Again.” The New York Times. 2010 Sept. 19 3 Dec. 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d Miller, Mark (14 January 2011). "Older unemployed workers half as likely to get hired". Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  3. ^ Blanc, P. D., Katz, P., & Yelin, E. (1996). Mortality risk among elderly workers. "American Journal of Industrial Medicine", 543-547.
  4. ^ Chang, H., & Yen, S. T. (2011). Full-time, part-time employment and life satisfaction of the elderly. "The Journal of Socio-Economics", 40(6), 815-823.
  5. ^ Van Ness, R. K., Melinsky, K., Buff, C. L., & Seifert, C. F. (2010). Work ethic: Do new employees mean new work values?. "Managerial Issues", 22(1), 10-34.
  6. ^ Ng, T. W. H., & Feldman, D. C. (2008). The relationship of age to ten dimensions of job performance. "Journal of Applied Psychology", 93(2), 392-423.
  7. ^ Shultz, K. S., Olson, D. A., & Wang, M. (2011). Overqualified employees: Perspectives of older workers. "Industrial & Organizational Psychology", 4(2), 247-249.
  8. ^ a b c d e f James, Susan. “Unemployment: Companies Cut Pricey Older Workers.” ABC News. 2009 10 Mar. 30 Nov. 2011.
  9. ^ Brandon, E. "Why Older Workers Can't get Hired."
  10. ^ Cohen, Aaron M. “Wiring the Elderly.” Futurist. 2010.
  11. ^ Roscigno, V. J., Mong, S., Byron, R., & Tester, G. (2007). Age discrimination, social closure and employment. "Social Forces", 86(1), 313-334.
  12. ^ Larson, Aaron (25 July 2016). "Age Discrimination Law". ExpertLaw. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  13. ^ a b c “Unique Training Requirements of Low-Income, Older Workers.” U.S. Department of Labor.2010 7 Jan. 1 Dec. 2011.
  14. ^ “Instructional Styles, Attitudes And Experiences Of Seniors In Computer Workshops” Educational Gerontology.2010.
  • Butler, T., & Berret, B. (2011). A generation lost: the reality of age discrimination in today's hiring practices. Journal of Management and Marketing Research, 9, 1-11. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Sept. 2013.