Overcoming Age Discrimination in the Hiring Process
Updated on: October 2022
The unemployment rate in the U.S. is estimated at 3.5 percent in September 2022, and expected to rise to 4.4 percent in 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a figure significantly lower than 10 years ago, when unemployment rates hovered somewhere between 9 and 10 percent. So, if you’re in the market for a new job, there hasn’t been a better time to find work.
And if you’re an older worker—defined as anyone 55 years older and up—the BLS further reports that the unemployment rates have actually stayed fairly steady over the past two years, remaining around 3-3.5 percent. And as far as the rate of elderly workers in the workforce goes, this figure is actually continuing to rise.
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Elderly Workers Increasing in the U.S.
In February 2017, the BLS published an article based on a March 2014 Current Population Survey that indicates that the age of the average worker has increased over the past couple of decades, with those 65 and older increasing 3.4 percent between 1990 and 2010. This is almost quadruple the increase for workers under the age of 65, which is only 0.9 percent.
The BLS attributes this growth partially due to an increase in older Americans in general. However, there’s also the fact that more elderly folks are actually working, citing that labor force participation rates have increased for this demographic from 11.8 percent to 17.4 percent, and they’re expected to keep rising until at least 2020.
But what types of jobs are elderly workers taking to increase their income?
Job Industries and Elderly Workers
Using the same survey, the BLS analyzed a series of job categories, comparing how many individuals between the ages of 45 and 65 were in these industries versus the number of workers over the age of 65. These included jobs in management, business and financial operations, legal, office and administrative support, farming and fishing, production, and more. The one area where elderly workers prevailed by a huge margin is food preparation and service-related jobs, with 25.3 percent of workers over 65 holding these types of positions versus just 3.1 percent of those in the younger age bracket. Other areas where the elderly hold a majority of the slots based on percentage share, even if only by a little, include:
- Art, design, entertainment, sports, and media (1.9 percent vs 1.7 percent)
- Personal care and services (3.7 percent vs 2.8 percent)
- Sales and related positions (9.8 percent vs 9.5 percent)
This survey also found that women are employed at roughly the same rate as men for both age groups and in almost all job categories, which is great news for elderly women want to work. Additionally, the number of elderly workers increased regardless of education, meaning this factor alone doesn’t necessarily impact an older person’s job prospects (depending on field and job requirements, of course).
Reasons Why People are Working Later in Life
According to an AARP survey, the number-one reason Americans over the age of 45 continue to work past the point when others retire is because of financial necessity. For some, this necessity is related to their own living expenses, accounting for 42 percent of the cases. For others, they work to help support family members, which happens about 12 percent of the time.
Other reasons Americans are choosing to bypass retirement and work into their later years include:
To stay active mentally (91%)
Because they enjoy working (83%)
To earn extra money (87%)
To have something to do (83%)
This survey also revealed that more than one in four older workers (27 percent) planned to continue to work for the rest of their lives, whether full or part-time.
Whatever the specific reason and whether it is out of want or need, finding a new job isn’t always easy when you’re over a certain age. In fact, another AARP survey found that two-thirds of workers over the age of 45 have either seen or experienced some level of age-related discrimination—often referred to as ageism—even though this discrimination is against the law.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) outlines that ageism is a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 and occurs if a job applicant is treated “less favorably” solely for being over 40 years old. Additionally, this act prohibits age discrimination in all aspects of the employment process, from hiring to firing, as well as in regard to layoffs, promotions, pay, training, and benefits.
The ADEA also makes it illegal to harass older employees, such as by making derogatory statements about their age or age-related abilities, which ultimately creates a hostile work environment. This harassment can come from employers or supervisors, but it can also come from a co-worker or even a client.
On a positive note, the number of age discrimination complaints being filed has actually decreased in recent years. In 2017, there were 18,376 age discrimination charges filed under ADEA, according to the EEOC, but in 2008, there were 24,582. Payouts in these types of cases cost more than $90 million today, but they are notoriously hard to prove.
That is likely why there are more ageism cases being resolved by “no reasonable cause,” which essentially means that the court has no hard and fast evidence that age discrimination occurred. According to the data, this finding occurs in almost three out of four (70.8 percent) of the cases.
The Driving Forces Behind Age Discrimination
One of the reasons the elderly are discriminated against in the workplace has to do with the media, according to the Encyclopedia of Social Work, a publication provided by the National Association of Social Workers Press and Oxford University Press.
For instance, some media sources report that older workers are “creating problems” for younger workers by not leaving the workforce. Others indicate that elderly employees don’t respect younger superiors, cost more to employ in terms of benefits, and are more than willing to take their employees to court.
Social stereotypes play a role as well, with the Encyclopedia sharing how older age is often considered synonymous with “physical and mental decline.” Other stereotypes that can lead to age discrimination include having the belief that older workers are more accident-prone, take more days off, are less intelligent, less flexible, or harder to teach. There’s also a misconception that they tire more quickly and underperform their younger counterparts.
However, research has proven otherwise, with one piece in Contemporary Issues In Education Research reporting that older workers are actually “absent less frequently and can be expected to remain healthy far longer than previous generations.” This research also states that elderly employees aren’t inflexible and unwilling to learn new skills; they’re just not provided the opportunities to advance their level of knowledge as often as their younger counterparts.
Ageism in the Workplace: Creating an Effective Response
Because ageism does exist in some capacity in the workplace, it helps to know how to effectively handle this type of discrimination if it occurs.
The first step is to consider talking with your employer about how you’re being discriminated against or, alternatively, filing a complaint via your company’s internal grievance policy, according to the AARP. This may enable you to resolve the ageism issue without having to go to court, especially if you have a solid case because they’re going to be more likely to want it to go away.
If you’re unable to resolve your discrimination concerns directly with your company’s management, the AARP says that your next step would be to contact the EEOC either by phone (800-669-4000) or online within 180 days. If you decide to take this route, it’s very important that you have documentation of the ageism. Hold on to any discriminatory emails or other writings or, at a minimum, keep detailed notes about what was said or done to you that could be considered age discrimination.
At this point, the EEOC will likely contact your employer and investigate your claim. If it is found that age discrimination was occurring, the EEOC can either try to resolve the issue directly with the employer (or whomever the claim is against) or take legal action against them if no resolution can be reached, which only happens in a small number of cases.
Once the EEOC completes its investigation and finds merit in the charge, they send you (the complainant) a “right to sue” letter that gives you 90 days from that date to file your lawsuit. However, you don’t have to wait to receive this letter before filing a case, because you can do that within 60 days of registering your complaint with the EEOC if you prefer.
After filing your lawsuit, it is up to the judge or jury to determine whether the individual or entity you are suing is guilty of age discrimination. If they are, you could be awarded money damages in an amount deemed appropriate by the court.
How to Make Yourself More Marketable as an OIder Employee
One way to potentially avoid age discrimination is to make yourself more marketable as an older employee. The job search site Monster says that this involves doing two specific things, the first of which involves staying current in your industry.
The more aware you are of the latest technological trends in the industry you want to work in, the more valuable you are to the prospective employer. You don’t have to be an expert of every trend, but you should be able to show that you know what type of technology is being used and have a basic understanding of how it works.
If you’re a little behind or unsure of what this technology is, you may want to take a class to brush up your skills. Or, if you know someone proficient with that particular type of tech, you could also ask him or her to teach you more about it.
Monster also recommends that older individuals give their resumes a makeover so they look more modern while also listing any newly acquired skills to show that you’re taking positive action to make and keep yourself more marketable in today’s workplace.
Additionally, if you graduated from college more than two decades ago, Monster suggests that you don’t list your graduation dates. Leave your first entry-level positions (and their dates) off too, and instead share your more mid-level experience.
Finally, if you’re not sure what else to put on or leave off your resume, you may want to get professional help to make sure the document says everything you want it to—and nothing that you don’t.
Tips for Nailing a Job Interview
Once you’ve made it past the resume stage and have landed an interview, there are also a couple things you can do to ace it as an older job applicant. For instance, although employers are prohibited from asking applicants their age, some work around this by asking how long you plan to work.
Regardless of how you answer, Monster recommends being vague and saying, “I enjoy working, and feel like I’m still learning, and intend to stay in the workplace as long as I can.” Basically, the best response is one that shares your excitement for the job, offers up the skills you bring to the table, and provides the experience you have that will make you an asset to this employer.
U.S. News & World Report adds that if you’re over 50 and interviewing, it’s helpful to be able to articulate why you want to work for that particular employer. This requires doing a little homework beforehand so you know more about the company, what it does, its values, and where it wants to go in the future. You can find most of this information on the company’s website. This will show the interviewer that you’re committed to that organization or agency and create a more personal bond.
It’s also helpful to provide clear examples of how you’ve solved problems or what you’ve done to overcome obstacles, as these are highly valuable skills. Give the interviewer an idea of your capabilities based on actual situations you’ve encountered or been involved with to better highlight your abilities and how you handle yourself when working with others.
Also, while you may be tempted to tell a prospective employer all about your 30+ years of experience, U.S. News suggests that older workers get further ahead by taking a less talkative approach and focusing on just a few of the skills, abilities, or experiences that showcase them best. So, follow the interviewer’s lead and recognize if you may be sharing too much.
The Importance Of Following Up
Getting through the interview may make you want to breathe a sigh of relief, but LiveCareer says that “your work isn’t done” just because you’ve answered questions face-to-face with a company rep. Instead, as an older applicant, you also want to follow-up to show the hiring manager that you still want to work for them and that you understand what they want out of an employee.
This follow-up process actually starts right before you exit the interview, according to LiveCareer, which is when you want to ask what the next steps are and when the company plans to make a final decision. Upon hearing the answer, ask permission to follow up if you haven’t heard from them by that time, further communicating your continued interest in getting hired while also getting the go-ahead to reach out post-interview.
LiveCareer also states that almost one in four hiring managers (22 percent) will bypass a job applicant if they don’t receive a thank-you note after the interview. Ideally, this note should be sent within 1-2 days via email or regular mail. Also, plan to send one to each person you interviewed with (if you interviewed with more than one person), including a personalized message in the note.
The Other Job Option for Seniors Wanting to Work
In the BLS’s comparison of job industries and how they relate to individuals between the ages of 45 and 65 versus those who are older, the one factor where older adults almost always prevailed over the younger group was in regard to self-employment.
For instance, in architectural and engineering positions, 3.4 percent of workers aged 45 to 65 are self-employed. However, that amount increases to 9.3 percent for those over 65. And for those working in business and financial operations, individuals over the age of 65 are self-employed 25.4 percent of the time compared to just 8 percent of the younger age group.
This is good news for two reasons.
- First, you don’t have to worry about being discriminated against for your age by an employer if you’re working for yourself.
- Second, if you’ve always wanted to own your own business—whether as a side hustle or full-time—now is your opportunity to do it because people like you are doing it.
In fact, in 2016, the U.S. Small Business Administration reported that 5.4 percent of seniors 62 years old and older are working for themselves, up from 4.2 percent in 1988. Though this may not seem like much, the number of self-employed persons under the age of 62 actually declined during this same timeframe, dropping from 7.2 to 6.0 percent.
So, what type of work can you do as a self-employed senior?
Self-Employment Options for the Elderly
In reality, you can do anything as a self-employed older person who is not yet ready to leave the workforce because no job type is off limits based solely on age. So, the real question you may want to ask yourself is, “What do I want to do?”
Maybe there is something you’ve dreamt of doing for as long as you can remember, but never made it a priority because you had a family to take care of or bills to pay. Or perhaps you’ve always had a side job in addition to full-time work and, now that you no longer work your 9-to-5, you’re interested in making your part-time gig your full-time job.
If you’re not quite sure how to turn working for yourself into a profitable venture that is worth your time and effort, here are a few options to consider:
Become a consultant, providing services for individuals or companies within your field of expertise.
Open up an online ecommerce business, giving you the opportunity to work from home while selling items that you enjoy.
Start a business where you run errands for those who have physical mobility or transportation issues or do side jobs for those who don’t have the time.
Drive for companies like Uber and Lyft so you can work when you feel like it yet don’t have to worry about marketing because these companies take care of that for you.
If you’re still not sure how to turn your skills and knowledge into a business you can run and own, Retired Brains offers a List of Businesses Started By Boomers, Seniors And Retirees that may give you a little inspiration and help you think outside the box.
Although age discrimination does occur in the workplace, there are still things elderly workers can do to help combat it. These include taking the appropriate action if you feel that you’re a victim of ageism, marketing yourself effectively as an older worker, and possibly even working for yourself. All of these can help you keep working until you’re ready to stop, no matter your age.