Women Face Age Discrimination Earlier and More Often Than Men

A new study from the National Economic Bureau of Research shows women facing persistent age discrimination as they get older.

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As with many aspects of life for working woman, getting a job after a certain age may be harder for women than it is for men. Looking at more than 40,000 job applications across a variety of industries, a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found "robust" evidence of age discrimination in hiring female candidates and "considerably less evidence" for age discrimination against male candidates. The findings suggest that age discrimination is especially a female problem.  

The researchers sent out résumés to job listings for positions in sales, administration, security, and janitorial work. They measured the response rate, comparing young applicants (aged 29 to 31) to two groups of older workers (aged 49 to 51 and those nearing retirement at age 64 to 66), while factoring in possible reasons a company might not hire them, such as experience. "Our general results are just a lot sharper for women than men," said David Neumark, the principle researcher on the study. "The results for women keep coming up strong no matter what." The results for men are much more ambiguous. 

In no scenario did men face statistically significant discrimination before the age of 51. In fact, men aged 49 to 51 were called back by prospective employers at a higher rate than younger candidates when they sought janitor positions. As men inch toward retirement, some experience age discrimination, though not always. For those applying for jobs in security, the researchers found no statistical significance of age discrimination at any age. 

For women, age discrimination starts earlier and never relents. In sales, the only occupation for which researchers submitted applications from both men and women, the study finds "considerably stronger evidence of discrimination against older women than older men." There is also no scenario in which women over the age of 49 aren't punished. Across all job types, sales and administrative, the researchers found "unambiguous" age discrimination against women in both older age ranges when compared to younger women. "Ageism is worse for women," said Neumark, an economist at UC Irvine. In sales jobs, for example, the young women got more callbacks than the young men. But as they age, the decline in callbacks is sharper. For women, "age gets punished more," says Neumark.  

The researchers offer two theories as to why women are penalized more often than men and at a younger age; both boil down to sexism. First, age discrimination laws don't protect women as a specific category. Two separate laws protect women and older workers. "'Intersectional' claims of age discrimination against older women are difficult to bring before the courts," the researchers wrote. One researcher at SUNY Buffalo, for example, found that age discrimination laws do far less to protect older women than older men. In addition, the researchers suspect that gendered norms in the workplace worsen as women age. "Older women may in fact experience more discrimination than older men, because physical appearance matters more for women and because age detracts more from physical appearance for women than for men," the researchers wrote.

"It [the study] reinforces to me that this is something about taste, discomfort, or other kinds of stereotypes about age that some reason effect women more than men," adds Neumark. 

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