Age Bias in Hiring 2021


                Ageism, “a tendency to regard older persons as debilitated, unworthy of attention, or unsuitable for employment” (, 2021), is alive and well in the self-proclaimed enlightened workplace.  Of course, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) promises to protect us, the more learned and skilled from being excluded from participating in the workforce (, 2021), however, it is one of those protections that is quite impossible to always identify or enforce, the hiring process.  The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is a comprehensive act that provides protections in various scenarios including the workplace.  It is the workplace, this act is most often disregarded and ignored.  The act states “The law prohibits discrimination, ageism in hiring as well as in any aspect of employment, including firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment” (, 2021). 

Qualified, not hired

                Discrimination in the workplace has the most potential of occurring in the hiring process.  Once an employee is on board and part of company staff, discriminating behavior is more easily identified and scrutinized as it is seen and experienced often by more than just the victim.  The real battleground for ageism is in the hiring process.  The hiring process is rife with excuses and reasons for exclusion based on age.  Of course, it is not to say that all employers are guilty of this behavior, however, there are processes of hiring that are complicit in their design of promoting this discrimination.  A recent study that included 482 managers from nine European countries found that “job candidates with a higher age have lower hire ability scores, which we interpret as evidence for age discrimination” (Schippers, 2021).  Applicants in the latter stages of their 5th decade, battle a consensus where they are portrayed by hiring managers as being less productive, less knowledgeable, or reliable, when the obvious comparison is being made to the millennial generation that has a blistering reputation of traits that make management cringe.  This is not to say there are not moments of brilliance in any generation, however, the millennials are famously notarized as one of the most frustrating hiring pools.

Signals that encourage ageism in hiring

                In a 2021 study, job applications were reviewed for indicators that would que hiring managers to identify older applicants.  “Ageism in the hiring process is not only a matter of explicit age cues, but also of implicit age cues” (Kleissner & Jahn, 2021).   These findings are troubling in that discrimination is not occurring half-hazard, or in higher proportions in some industries or areas versus others, rather there is an intentional effort to seek out and identify those older candidates for exclusion.  A 2012 field study concluded that two matching applications with the only difference in that of age, (31 vs. 46 years) submitted to Swedish hiring managers resulted in three to four more responses for the younger candidate that the elder.  Academic research clearly indicates that there is a widespread acknowledgment of discriminatory hiring practices, and one does not need to venture far to find adequate evidence.


                Interestingly there are probable solutions for addressing ageism.  One solution may be in demanding accountability of actions.  If employers were required to publish a report on the same job boards they advertise on, that detailed not only the applicants’ skills but their categorized evaluation as to where they placed in the consideration process, along with determinants that were a factor for the final decision, we may start to see discriminatory practices dissipate.  The reality of this solution would be very simple to execute for companies and these same reports would actually fall in line with employee job description procedures for human relations activities.  This process would without doubt be voraciously debated by business representatives as there could not longer be choices made that are based on discriminatory criteria.  A secondary result from a public accounting of a firm’s hiring process and decisions would be a clear representation for competing candidates to see what the true determinants of employment for that employer were.  The accreditation of current employees also would benefit from this process as a qualification progression attitude would result.  It would quickly become evident that one’s abilities are the true measure of success and promotion.  Interestingly, these secondary influences from public reporting of hiring decisions are what most employer profess they exhibit in the first place, reward through merit and equal opportunity.


Age discrimination. (n.d.). U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Ageism. (n.d.).

Ahmed, A. M., Andersson, L., & Hammarstedt, M. (2012). Does age matter for employability? A field experiment on ageism in the Swedish labor market. Applied Economics Letters, 19(4), 403–406. https://doi. org/10.1080/13504851.2011.581199

Kleissner, V., & Jahn, G. (2021). Implicit and explicit age cues influence the evaluation of job applications. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 51(2), 107-120.

Schippers, J. (2021). Age Discrimination in Hiring Decisions: A Factorial Survey among Managers in Nine European Countries. European Sociological Review., 37(1), 49–66.

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