Is Ageism Sexist?

I came across an intriguing article by Andrew Flowers entitled “Age Discrimination In The Job Market May Hurt Women More,’’ which has the sub-heading “Is Ageism Sexist?”

What does that mean?

Grandmother, Old Age, Elderly Woman

The article begins by saying that:

“Evidence keeps piling up that the deck is stacked against older workers who find themselves unemployed. And new research shows that pervasive age discrimination in hiring is most acute for … older, unemployed women.  Older men seem to suffer far less age discrimination than older women, and older women face more discrimination than younger women.”

Résumé Correspondence Studies

He then cites to and quotes from two “robust economic studies recently published, but not yet peer-reviewed,” which employed “field experiments known as résumé correspondence studies to test for discrimination in the job market.”

Flowers explains that:

“Researchers send out a bunch of fake résumés that are identical except for some characteristics such as the applicant’s name or year of graduation. They then see which fake applicants get a callback. If older applicants, for example, have a lower callback rate than younger ones despite having identical credentials, the researchers can infer that age discrimination was the reason. These types of experiments are an improvement on previous studies of discrimination, which followed groups of people and interpreted any differences in outcomes as the result of discrimination, even if the groups’ underlying characteristics were radically different.”

The results?

In one study, across all of the occupations studied, there were “lower callback rates for women ages 64 to 66 (12 percent) than for women ages 29 to 31 (19 percent). Older men, however, didn’t seem to have lower callback rates than younger ones — with one exception. Janitorial jobs seemed to discriminate against older men; [the author] speculated that a perceived reduction in physical stamina could be one explanation.”

Professor, Man, Male, People, Person

The second study found “evidence that older women have worse job prospects: women ages 35 to 37 and 40 to 42 received callbacks 11 percent to 12 percent of the time, but women ages 55 to 58 only got a callback 9 percent of the time, a statistically significant difference.”

Why would this be?

Flowers quotes one of the study’s authors as saying that “There is some evidence that people’s rating of attractiveness diminishes more quickly for older women than older men” – the employers “could have used age as a proxy for attractiveness, especially if they were hiring for jobs that require intensive social skills, such as sales.”

The study author also wonders, with little merit I think, that this may be due to the two relevant anti-discrimination laws: Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  His thought is that sex and age are bifurcated here, and that employees who have both age and gender claims under the two statutes may have a more difficult time proving both — “There’s some evidence the age discrimination law doesn’t do as much for older women as older men.”

You may want to take a look at a couple of my posts dated September 27th and October 21st, the latter entitled “Can’t Find a Job at 50? Is it Ageism Or Just Your Own Fault?”

Any practitioners out there have any comments or experiences in this area worth sharing?

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]