Age bias occurs in recruitment and hiring when a person is overlooked or ignored for a position because of their age. The term age bias is sometimes used interchangeably with ageism and age discrimination, but the difference is subtle. In many cases, age bias is an unconscious bias. When age bias is applied deliberately, it crosses the line into age discrimination, which could have legal implications.
Age bias usually affects older individuals applying for new jobs or promotions in their current company. Generation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to studying how to help underemployed or unemployed people learn job skills, conducted a survey in 2021 with 1,400 employers and 3,800 workers in the U.S., U.K., India, Brazil, Spain, Singapore, and Italy. The survey found that hiring managers worldwide prefer to hire younger employees.
In employment, age bias occurs primarily in four areas:
Recruitment: Using verbiage in promotional materials and advertising that suggests applicants of a certain age are more desirable
Training: Making assumptions about a trainee’s ambitions or needs based on their age or overlooking older employees for overall development opportunities
Promotion: Ruling out qualified employees because they are too young or old for a role or extra responsibilities
Conditions of employment and pay: Having different employment conditions or terms because of a candidate’s perceived age
Age bias can occur for a number of different reasons. For example, a hiring manager may assume they can hire younger workers for less money. Older workers tend to expect higher wages because of their work experience.
Another reason for age bias is hiring managers, or recruiters assume that an older candidate’s skillsets or technology knowledge aren’t as up-to-date as those of younger applicants.
AARP reviewed thousands of job listings on the most popular job boards, and the language used frequently targets younger workers and discourages older workers from applying. For example, job postings that encourage “recent college graduates” to apply are showing age bias.
A more subtle job posting may use the phrase “digital native,” which doesn’t show age bias on the surface. However, a close examination of the term “digital native” reveals that this is a phrase used to describe people who have had access to digital technology, such as the internet and computers, for their entire lives. This type of job posting excludes older workers who grew up before personal computers, social media, and the internet were available.
is a term often used interchangeably with age bias. However, ageism tends to be more active and deliberate than age bias, which is often unconscious and more difficult to prove. Deliberate ageism is prohibited by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects people aged 40 and older. The law is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In the U.K, the Equality Act of 2010 protects people of all ages from age discrimination, while the U.S. law provides no protection to people under the age of 40.