I have written at length about pervasive ageism in hiring, especially in the high-tech industry and one of those posts debunks six myths behind ageism. My position is that that hiring companies willfully and intentionally eliminate employees over a certain age and refuse to hire candidates who they perceive as older.
Contradicting the Two Big Myths
Now my position has been vindicated by studies that contradict two of the big myths behind ageism: that older workers are more expensive and less productive. Here’s how the complaint goes:
“I don’t want to hire anyone over 50 because they’re expensive but can’t do as much. You know, we have to pay experienced workers more, but they just can’t keep up with their younger colleagues. And they’re not healthy so they’ll drive our health care costs up as well.”
Maybe you have heard this said or maybe you even said it yourself—while you were tossing out the resumes of any candidate you determined was “too old for Hungadunga Company.” Because it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age—and because most older workers know it’s important to hide their age on paper— HR and hiring managers have developed subtle techniques for winkling out the “too old to hire” candidates.
With resumes carefully crafted to hide any date that would indicate age, so HR gets downright sneaky, looking for resumes with Times New Roman fonts or two spaces after a period instead of one. Or searching Facebook for pictures of grandchildren. not to mention anniversary photos.
Here Are the Facts
In the face of these negative opinions and assumptions, not to mention stereotypes, here are some facts:
- A 2014 paper published in the Journal Of Gerontology by D.J. Lowsky, S.J. Olshansky, J. Bhattacharya, and D. Goldman found that “85 per cent of Americans aged 65 to 69 report no health-based limitations on paid work or housework.” They found similar trends in other part of the developed world.
- A 2010 study conducted by Jan C. van Ours and Lenny Stoeldraijer for the Study of Labour in Bonn, Germany. found scant evidence to support the notion of an old-age productivity gap. “. . . older workers are thought to be more reliable and have better skills than average workers.”
- Professor Axel Boersch-Supan from the Munich Centre for the Economics of Ageing says that, “Based on 1.2 million observations, age and experience beat youth and inexperience.” He describes an aging population as “unused labour capacity” that can be tapped to continue economic growth.
Whingeing About the Skills Gap
As for the idea that paying more for older workers is a disadvantage, consider the college tuition burden that new graduates now bring to the work force. They are staggering under this enormous debt load and need good salaries that will allow them to pay it off and still be able to live. Meanwhile older workers are downsizing and reducing their expenses as their nests empty out. Seems like a wash to me.
It would be great if American companies would stop whingeing about a skills gap and not having enough H-1B visas and start tapping the deep well of unused labor capacity found in older, experienced workers. The first company that figures this out will have a gusher of talent on their hands.