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Age Discrimination Is Real, and Here's Proof

A new study from Princeton offers real numbers to back up a phenomenon all older workers know to be true: age is more than just a number when it comes to getting hired, promoted, and being accorded the respect of your colleagues.

older businessman 

(Photo Credit: sachabertrand/Flickr)

"Age discrimination in the workplace has always been harder to identify and quantify than race and sex discrimination," writes Michael Winerip in the New York Times. "Blacks and women have experienced a long history of being underpaid, which researchers can calculate in salary differentials. The math is less straightforward for older workers. They may have been unfairly demoted, and yet still earn more than their younger co-workers."

In the experiment, 137 Princeton undergraduates were shown a video of a man named Max, ostensibly their partner in a trivia contest. Three different actors played Max in the video -- one 75-year-old, one 45-year-old, and one 25-year-old.

Each version of Max answered a series of questions. Half the time, all three Maxes varied on one single question, describing themselves as people who would (or wouldn't) share a financial windfall with a relative.

Students had no preference between the assertive and compliant Maxes, as long as they were viewing the 25-year-old or 45-year-old versions. When it came to the 75-year-old Max, however, their opinion changed. The older actor earned a "high negative" rating when he answered assertively.

"If you want to be an aging gray panther, and speak your mind to your manager, that's fine," Fiske says. "But expect consequences."

Fiske and North's study will be published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and, along with similar research by other academics, could ultimately affect age discrimination lawsuits in the future.

Recent changes to federal law make it harder for plaintiffs to win court cases based on age discrimination. Prior to the 2009 Supreme Court Case Gross v. EBL Financial Services, plaintiffs only had to prove that age was a factor in their dismissal; now they must prove that it was the proximate cause of the dismissal.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever experienced age discrimination? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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3 Comments

  1. 3 Annette 13 Aug

    Yes it has happened on more than one occasion.  Most times if I dont put my date of birth on my resume I at least obtain an interview.  They they take a look and you can see it on their faces.  Nope Your not getting this job.  Lately, I put a colleague onto a job and I also applied.  She is younger and less experienced, yet she got the job.  I didnt even get an interview.   But no matter I'll stay where I am at the moment. Aged 53

  2. 2 Robert Mileman 08 Aug

    I am also sixty and employed by an employer who is making record profits but has not given me any pay rise this year plus reduced my salary in previous years; whilst director dividends continue escalating.

    Unfortunately I have to accept this treatment as require some form of income to top up my pension receipts which I've been drawing since was aged fifty.

    Despite having downsized house and cut back costs where ever possible like many other people have done.

    Retirement will never occur and I shall need working if can until get put in a wooden box.

    Numerous job applications by me are receiving same response that Richard Shartenberg is getting.

    Luckily I am not greedy and as my late mother always stated - God repays debts.

  3. 1 Richard Shartenberg 08 Aug
    My view is this. I am 60 and have been in sales for over 30 years. I am now in the unfortunate position of having to look for work, having been laid off following an accident and I spend my day every day all day looking for suitable positions, mostly on the internet through the major search engines like Career Builder and Monster as well as some of the lesser ones. I am infinitely more qualified than many of the other candidates for some of the positions I apply to, I am quite sure of and the only thing thing I can think of that I continue receiving the notifications that say "Thank you for your interest but we have found someone that meets our criteria more closely. Please feel free to continue to apply to us in the future when you see a listing that matches your description" You know the real reason you were not chosen to move forward in the process is you were older than the other candidate. Never mind that you may be able to perform at a much higher level simply as a result of the experience and judgement you bring to the table. Go figure.

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