Digging Deeper: Age Discrimination for Women

If you can remember gas rationing, or seeing the original Star Wars six times in the summer of ‘77, chances are good you’re “of a certain age.”

If you’re also a woman currently looking for a job, economists say there’s a pretty good chance you’re experiencing hiring discrimination.

According to a recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), there is robust evidence (based on over 40,000 job applications!) of age discrimination in hiring against older women. And another study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that since the Great Recession ended, older women are comprising a growing share of the long-term unemployed.

Reputable publications all picked up the story: Washington Post. Bloomberg. Forbes. And yet, despite the coverage, no one seems overly concerned with the why. The NBER study offered two reasons: discrimination laws may not do enough to protect older women facing age and sex discrimination, and the natural changes in physical appearance associated with aging may matter more for women than men. Okay. Maybe. But, if we’re going to effect change, it helps to understand the root cause.

What is it about older females?

Kudos to the team at PBS Newshour, who recently came to JVS to ask for our help in better understanding the plight of the older female job seeker. For their piece, “Women Over 50: Help Not Wanted,” we gathered a panel of women between the ages of 50 and 65 to hear their thoughts on why companies discriminate against 50+ women. Their theories about what hiring managers think and assume were astounding:

  • She can’t pick up new technology. (I believe there are assessments for that.)
  • She won’t “fit in” with foosball and beer pong. (Actually, my mom was always the ping pong champion at my house.)
  • She might be too opinionated. (So, what you want is someone without a voice?)
  • She won’t work hard. (Actually, she’ll work really hard, but without a show.)

At JVS, we coach older female job seekers with proven strategies to combat stereotypes, be it age- or gender-related, in the hiring process. Next week, we’ll share some of the best advice from our team, and we’d love to hear what you think works.

What do you believe about why hiring managers discriminate against older women? What should companies do to stop themselves? What are we missing?

Kim Drew
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