Mirror, mirror on the wall
Who's being treated most unfairly of them all?
With apologies to the Evil Queen from Snow White, the answer -- at least when it comes to hiring -- seems to be that older women are the ones bearing the brunt of age discrimination in the job market, according to two recent studies by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The studies found that older women experience greater discrimination in hiring than do older men -- and certainly more than younger women.
The surge in complaints of age discrimination in hiring has been largely focused on the tech industry in Silicon Valley -- where Facebook's work force has an average age of 28 and Google's is 30 -- but even the EEOC has acknowledged it is more widespread than just one industry. But what hasn't been talked about is who gets hit the hardest: older men or older women. Hands down, it's older women, says NBER -- which begs the question, "Is ageism also sexist?" Short answer: It sure seems so.
In the first NBER study, conducted by a team led by UC Irvine economist David Neumark, 40,000 fake résumés were sent out that were identical in every way except for the applicant’s year of graduation and name; they gave them gender-obvious names and then tracked which fake applicants got a callback.
The study found "robust evidence of age discrimination in hiring against older women." The study author offered this explanation to fivethirtyeight.com: “There is some evidence that people’s rating of attractiveness diminishes more quickly for older women than older men.” While in Neumark's study, employers were offering callbacks solely on the basis of résumés, age is frequently used as a proxy for attractiveness and while older men are seen as silver foxes, older women are -- at best -- invisible.
Plus culturally, beauty is equated with youth. Given that, it gets seriously uncomfortable to think that older women are losing out to younger women when it comes to who gets hired -- which is what the second NBER study suggests. In that case, 12,000 fake résumés were sent out, all from women with college degrees. 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 were only called back 9 percent of the time, a statistically significant difference.
It's even possible that our laws may be part of the problem.
While sex is a protected class in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, age is covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. That leaves the EEOC somewhat toothless in demanding that companies track the age of their work forces.
Raymond Peeler, Senior Attorney-Advisor in our Office of Legal Counsel at the EEOC, told The Huffington Post that all employers with at least 100 workers must file an annual report listing the race and sex of their employees, but do not report annually to the EEOC about the age of their work force. The record-keeping requirements of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) are that employers keep for one year "job applications, resumes, or any other form of employment inquiry whenever submitted to the employer in response to his advertisement or other notice of existing or anticipated job openings, including records pertaining to the failure or refusal to hire any individual." Which makes us wonder if the now commonplace practice of applying for jobs online doesn't actually hurt older workers. Older job applicants send their resumes into the black hole of the Internet, rarely getting back so much as an automated response -- and then the company can trot out their interest as proof of due consideration of them?
The bottom line: Ageism, whether sexist or not, is the last unaddressed prejudice we face. But since nobody wants to talk about ageism, maybe if we call it sexism something will be done about it.
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