Study shows age discrimination likely worse for women

Contrary to what you may have heard, it’s a bad time to be nearing retirement, at least if you’re looking for work.

A study out today says age discrimination is rampant in hiring even though it’s against the law.

Three economists — David Neumark and Ian Burn of the University of California at Irvine and Patrick Button of Tulane University — responded to job ads with fictional resumes that broke down along age groups. They responded to 40,000 job ads. They found callbacks were much higher for younger groups no matter what kind of job was being pursued.

It’s particularly bad for older women, the study said. That would appear to contradict earlier studies that showed age discrimination is particularly acute for older men, the authors wrote.

First, for the one occupation where we study both men and women – sales – we find considerably stronger evidence of discrimination against older women than older men; indeed if one emphasizes the evidence from the unobservables correction, there is evidence of age discrimination only for women. Second, more generally across the many analyses we present, the evidence of age discrimination against older women is strong and robust, while the evidence for older men is less clear. We only consistently find evidence of age discrimination for one of three occupations in which we study men (security), and in this case the evidence is not statistically strong.

We might, therefore, conclude that the really strong evidence from our study establishes that it is harder for older female workers to find jobs. In contrast, consideration of the biases we take up in this paper leads to results that appear to undermine the uniform evidence from past AC studies that there is age discrimination in hiring against older men.

This, in turn, raises the question of why older women might suffer from age discrimination more than older men do. There are two related possibilities. One is that age discrimination laws do less to protect older women who may suffer from both age and sex discrimination. Because the law that protects women (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) is separate from the law that protects older workers (the ADEA), “intersectional” claims of age discrimination against older women are difficult to bring before the courts (Song, 2013; Day, 2014). Second, older women may in fact experience more discrimination than older men, because physical appearance matters more for women (Jackson, 1992) and because age detracts more from physical appearance for women than for men (Berman et al., 1981).