Ageism Employment Discrimination

AGEISM AND EMPLOYMENT

Social and economic controversies surrounding age discrimination by employers in the workplace is becoming a major social problem. For baby boomers reaching age 55 and over, research implies significant generational issues in terms of attitudes of the employer and society in general (Palamore, Branch, & Harris, 2005). Previous studies demonstrate that age discrimination is stereotypical among hiring managers in the workplace and is a leading social problem for the aging population (Gringart, Helmes, & Speelman, 2005). According to (Marshall, 2007) ageism in the workplace relates to the employer’s impression and evaluation of capabilities. Judgmental attitudes based upon a person’s aging appearance, as opposed to their potential, is covert discrimination. Waller (2006) presents an interesting perspective of inequity and ageism the harassment by employers to persons over 55. Waller implies that employers face the same liabilities and legal consequences as that of discrimination by “race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or beliefs” (Waller, 2006 p. 33).

Ageism as a psychosocial problem is detrimental to the emotional and mental well being of the persons experiencing discrimination in the workplace (Marshall, 2007). The population over the age of 50 faces significant vulnerability in the workplace where skilled workers are at a greater risk of termination than the unskilled younger worker (Roscigno et al., 2007). Ageism affects those approaching retirement age, persons 50 and over, who are not physically or mentally prepared for retirement. This premature event is demoralizing to persons who spent a lifetime committed to their no-longer-needed professional experience.

It appears that policy makers lack consideration for the over 50-population and allow loopholes for the employers by unclear discrimination laws and regulations. MacGregor (2006) summarizes another factor of ageism in the workplace, the initiation, and enforcement of early retirement by offering incentives. If initiatives do not elicit early retirement, demoted status frequently leaves the persons with no alternative other than forced early retirement.

Economic, social, financial, and stereotypical attitudes toward the aging workforce needs reevaluation by corporate America as the labor force of the aging population will soon exceed the younger labor force (Goldberg, 2000). The hypothesis of this study describes the profound affects of discrimination and displacement of person over 55 years of age in the workplace. Evidence finds that attitudes of ageism are a widespread dilemma, which is increasing the vulnerability of future generations in the workplace environment (Goldberg, 2000). The number of baby boomers reaching retirement age in the near future may change the attitudes about the graying workforce from a social and economic perspective (Wan, Sengupta, Velkoff, & DeBArros, 2005). This study addresses unemployment and ageism issues of baby boomers in the state of New Hampshire, which compromises 30 percent of its population (Angiropolis, 2008).

Hypotheses

Review of current and past research provides empirical evidence, in conjunction with statistical trends presented by the New Hampshire Employment Security and Department of Labor (Angiropolis, 2008). This experimental study hopes to validate the presence of age discrimination, eliminating gender characteristics and hiring inequity, in New Hampshire. According to previous studies, age definitely played a role in hiring determination. Globalization of age discrimination affects society from a generational and economic viewpoint. Since the dilemma of increasing aging baby boomers area, a major economic portion of the workforce appears through previous literature as an ongoing social problem. Literature is a vital feature of this research study for the validation and emphasis of ageism as a growing social problem in the workplace. Therefore, a research survey identifying and validating the seriousness of ageism in the workplace, including New Hampshire is the hypotheses of this study.

Review of Literature and Theories

Rix, (2005) reports that “nearly 1.7 million workers aged 55 and older were displaced from their jobs between January 2001 and December 2003” (p. 4). Re-employment for many exceeds a period of 4-5 months. For example, the Employment Security Commission in Manchester, New Hampshire confirms the average unemployment compensation is between 20-26 weeks and unemployment benefits do not exceed a 26-week period (Asselin, A., personal communication, January 16, 2008). Ageism, reorganization, and lay-offs all displace employees. Often persons are over qualified, yet ageism appears to discourage hiring managers, although employers carefully avoid the topic of age due to discrimination laws and fears of lawsuits. Experienced workers in New Hampshire, include persons with academic degrees, years of vocational training, and life skills (Asselin, A., personal communication, January 16, 2008). In the past few years, statistics show an increase for persons over age 55 receiving unemployment in New Hampshire (Angiropolis, 2008).

Ageism in the workplace is a global problem—one that exists in countries and states other than New Hampshire. Mandatory retirement, abolished in the United States in 1996 as part of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA, 1996), is not part of employment policy for Canadians. They still struggle with legislation to end age discrimination of persons from age 60-65. MacGregor (2005/2006) reports mandatory retirement is an ongoing political and social problem for the aging Canadian population. Additional empirical studies of the Australian aging population suggest inequity and stereotypical attitudes of hiring older adults (MacGregor 2005/2006).

From a global perspective, this does not appear to be a consideration for hiring managers—ageism seems to take precedence over knowledge in the hiring decision. Gringart et al. (2005, as cited by Bittman, Flick, & Rice, 2001) refer to a study that sampled “1007 hiring decision- makers” (Gringart et al., p. 88) and found most hiring managers preferred younger employees. Managers preferred training younger employees as opposed to older employees since stereotypically younger persons are purportedly more capable of learning. A similar study conducted in the United States indicated similar results of stereotypical attitudes towards ageism by hiring managers (Bendick, Jackson, & Wall, 1999, as cited by Gringart et al., 2005).

Recent research focuses on interaction, stereotypical aspects, and corporate expenditures influencing age discrimination in the workplace (Rosecigno, Mong, Byron, & Tester, 2007). Considering previous research findings the existence of ageism and discrimination, is it plausible that societal views about aging are generational in nature, and in turn, influence attitudes of employers? Are the growing cultural differences likely to affect future generations if attitudes do not change? Vincent (2005) summarizes generational society as being a culture that is no longer specific to the younger generations; it includes persons transitioning from work to retirement. Where the over-55 population is forced into early retirement by employers, it appears from a social, political, and legal viewpoint to validate and reinforce stereotypical attitudes about this population. These behaviors present a growing problem and require reevaluation if indeed this is an increasing social problem.  For persons aged 55 and older forced into early retirement, discouragement and emotional issues generally escalate healthcare costs due to lack of income potential and isolation from mainstream society.

In addition, Gringart et al. (2005) suggests early or forced retirement is a significant loss to the younger generation since the older, more experienced, and knowledgeable employee is no longer present to share the wisdom of experience and influence. What example is society teaching the younger generation about biases prejudices of the older population, and their future in the workplace? The astronomical numbers of over 55 workers forced to retire in 1999, “5.4 million” (Palamore et al., 2005, p. 82), indicates ageism is a growing issue in our society. Such loss of resources affects the economy and society in general and presents a negative view of aging. Every citizen needs to be concerned on the topic of ageism and discrimination in the workplace since future predictions imply the number of baby boomers reaching full retirement age will double within the next decade (Nelson 2005). The population will shift to a “Graying America” (Nelson, 2005, p. 218). Undoubtedly, this shift will dramatically influence all aspects of society, including the aging population in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire Employment Security and Department of Labor reports the aging population of unemployed workers is continually increasing (Angiropolis, 2008). In 2004, the Department of Labor in New Hampshire reported a total of 6,901 displaced workers 3,450 males, and 2,641 females. Totaling 18 percent unemployed between the ages of 45-54 and 14 percent between the ages of 55-64 total claims for both groups totaled 4,426 unemployed persons that filed claims, the total for that year 28,000 claims. Current data of unemployment claims indicate a continuum of increase in 2006 reported claims of 6,592, in 2007, 7,536 claims reported. In addition, to the overall increase from 27,612 in 2006 to 35,609 in 2007 an increase of 7,609 between 2004 and 2007 (Angiropolis, 2008). Data of age groups for 2007, yet published, the significance of percentages of unemployed between ages 45-64 in past years indicates 32% of citizens in New Hampshire (Angiropolis, 2008). Previous data-reflecting ageism in of displaced workers in New Hampshire requires further research in order to determine if there is a relationship between qualities and characteristics of hiring managers to either eliminate or reinforce ageism discrimination.

Methods

Participants

A research study is questionnaires in the form of a survey of 400 random businesses in New Hampshire area to measure the characteristics and capabilities of potential employees. The qualifying participants must be owners, and or hiring managers.

Materials and Procedure

The research experiment is a self-designed survey to be conducted by telephone to participants. Utilizing the method of a Likert scale the survey seeks to ask hiring manager to list the most significant qualities when deciding to hire persons in their organization or company. This survey asks the participants to rank in order of their comfort level in job applicant capacity; the survey hopes to indicate stereotypical preferences of hiring employees by decision-makers (see Appendix 1).

Participating hiring managers will be told the survey is voluntary in nature. If they chose to respond to this study of various decision-making attributes of hiring personal. Participants will also be told of the purpose of this survey instrument (a) educating future generations on how to prepare for employment, (b) the significant qualities, and characteristics that hiring managers are seeking. In addition, this instrument serves and an educational process of teaching the younger generation how to prepare for retirement at an early age. Since ageism appears to be a global issue with emphasis influencing stereotypical attitudes and assumptions of the aging workforce. Future projections of ageism as a deterrent when persons reaching over age 55 become unemployed and are unable to re-enter the workforce.

Implications

Limitations of the survey are primarily time constraints for this research study. In addition, sample size of respondents may not provided the results this experiment hopes to conclude in terms of stereotypical characteristics of decision-making by hiring managers. Moreover, some of the questions regarding age and gender may not be accurately disclosed by responding participants. Validity of this research is dependent upon honest factual responses by hiring-managers and the designer of the survey. The possibility that the responses are questioned since the validity of responses relies solely on the designer applies to the ethical principles of this researcher and study. A further limitation of this experiment requires permission from the ethics committee of the State Board of Psychologist in New Hampshire prior to the survey’s completion.

Discussion

Past research implies the validity of discrimination for persons over age 55, including premature termination and difficulty with re-employment. Research exemplifies the existence of negative ageism, yet little research questions the opinions of over 50 persons experiencing the dilemma of forced retirement and the rejection associated with developmental milestones of aging. As a diverse society where prejudices and biases exist from a cultural viewpoint, ageism ranks as a minority group. Perhaps further research addressing methods of creating societal change regarding cultural biases and prejudices can influence negativity around aging and employment.

Several articles from peer-review journals provide significant empirical evidence of stereotypical negativity from employers in the workforce. In addition, a conversation with an employee from Employment Security Commission in Manchester, New Hampshire, regarding displaced persons aged 50 and over. Ms. Asselin provided written consent to use specific portions of this conversation for the use of this study. Ms. Asselin, reported, “I see older client’s everyday, which are more than qualified for positions, and are not employed by the hiring managers.” Most report they are over qualified; several persons are 50 and over. When directly asked the question of age discrimination, she states, “Definitely, we see this all the time, even though the employers do not mention age” (Asselin, A., personal communication, January 16, 2008).

The null hypothesis (Ho) of business owners in New Hampshire is dependent upon the results of the survey data. In terms of validating if ageism characteristics plays a significant role in employer decision-making during the interview process. Thus, validating previous research that ageism is a global social problem. The argument that New Hampshire’s unemployed persons between the ages of 45-60 having difficulties re-entering the workforce is the premises of this research. In addition, if the survey concludes hiring managers display covert discrimination then further research of all New Hampshire business managers may indicate change is needed regarding attitudes towards ageism in the workplace. New Hampshire’s workforce is a fraction of the problem considering past research of age discrimination, research provides data that ageism is a global problem, that will likely increase in the next decade if attitudes do not change (Nelson, 2005).

The reality and beliefs of this society indicates the capacity of older workers over age 55 lacks the ability of adequately training capacity. Performance decreases, or often miss work because of illness categorizes a culture of persons (Goldberg, 2000). This assumption and attitude stereotypically tries to diminish a population of persons by stigmatizing ageism. Does this mean that after age 55 and over, the quality of life, experience that this generation of persons provided for many years forced into early retirement and becomes no longer useful to society? Considering the baby boomer population will be the majority of the workforce within the next decade what affect will this impose on society if diminished from the workforce?

Directions for the future

Although discrimination is illegal, further research of attitudes of hiring managers can predict the affects age discrimination on future generations, the economy, and the healthcare system in New Hampshire. Differentiating whether ageism and discrimination are stereotypical in New Hampshire, is dependent upon the results of the survey. Since this experiment includes a sample of 400 of the potentially 100 plus hiring managers in New Hampshire. Future studies of all business owners, and or hiring managers may provide data that are more significant.

More importantly is examining the assumptions that persons over age 55 are incapable of adequate productivity by hiring managers; otherwise, future generations will face the same deterrent attitude if change does not occur. Ultimately, everyone ages, changes in employment policies, decreasing age discrimination, for future generations is imperative. Since research supports ageism in the workforce appears to be a neglected social problem requiring further research of a marginalized population.

Appendix 1

Survey Questionnaire

Participant’s response indicated by circling one of the selections below, by the designer of the survey.

1. Education level: (a) High school diploma, (b) Some college (c) College graduates

(d) Education level does not matter

2. Experience: (a) 1-5 years (b) 6-10 years (c) 11-20 years (d) prefer to conduct your own training.

3. Gender: Males (a) age 21-30 (b) age 31-40 (c) age 41-51 (d) age 51-60 (e) over 60 (f)no preferences

Gender: Females (a) age 21-30 (b) age 31-40 (c) age 41-51 (d) age 51-60 (e) over 60 (f)no preferences

4. Appearance: (a) significant (b) somewhat significant (c) little significances (d) no significance

5. Technical ability: (a) significant (b) somewhat significant (c) little significances (d) no significance

6. Assimilation into the team: (a) significant (b) somewhat significant (c) little significances (d) no significance

7. Ability to work independently: (a) significant (b) somewhat significant (c) little significances (d) no significance

8. Professional standards: (a) significant (b) somewhat significant (c) little significances (d) no significance

9. Energy levels: (a) significant (b) somewhat significant (c) little significances (d) no significance

10. Productive peer relationships: (a) significant (b) somewhat significant (c) little significances (d) no significance

References

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Nelson, T. D. (2005). Ageism: Prejudice against our feared future self. Journal of Social Issues, 61(2), 207-221.

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