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Ageism: How to recognize age bias in your job and job search


Age discrimination is rampant at work and in the job search despite the 1967 law prohibiting it and the large number of baby boomers remaining in the workforce.

Ageism is discrimination, prejudice, or stereotyping based on an individual’s age and perceptions of them as “old,” according to this article.

Despite the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act, age bias has become more prevalent, even as the workforce ages.

The same article illustrates that age discrimination is based mainly on myths and mistaken assumptions that older workers are inferior to younger workers in:

  • Energy.
  • Adaptability.
  • Productivity.
  • Ambition.
  • Health.
  • Creativity.
  • Flexibility.
  • Interest or ability to engage in training.
  • Skills upgrades.
  • Mastery of technological advances.

Though significant evidence to the contrary exists, these negative stereotypes about older workers persist and influence employers and managers.

Many articles offer suggestions as to how society must change to accept and even embrace the multigenerational workforce. While this is the best end result, it doesn’t offer hope to the thousands of workers over 50 who fear losing their jobs today.

Recognizing ageism at work

The first order of business is to recognize ageism when it happens. Here are some scenarios that illustrate age bias at work. How many have you observed or experienced?

  • You’ve been a solid contributor and have glowing performance reviews to back it up. Suddenly, you receive a review that is less than stellar. In fact, it’s downright insulting.
  • You’ve outpaced the requirements of your job description and annual goals for, well, ever. This week, your manager revealed new demands that have you worried. Even as a substantial performer, you’re not sure you can meet them. You’re wondering if everyone has to step it up this much.
  • You’ve been in line for the promotion to manager. Everybody knows it. Colleagues even come to you for advice because the current manager is retiring in a few months, and she has been handing some decisions your way. This week, a younger, less qualified employee was introduced as the next manager. You are in shock.
  • During lunch, you and two other colleagues close to your age discovered that younger workers have been offered advanced training you’ve been lobbying for since the recession ended most of the off-site training. You and other older workers were not invited.
  • There are six departmental managers in your division. Five of them are older than 45. All five were laid off today. You are the sixth, and you are 44. Uh-oh.

Recognizing ageism in your job search

  • An interviewer asks you how you would feel about working for a younger manager.
  • An interviewer assumes advancement (or anything else) isn’t important to you because of your age.
  • You hear through a friend who works there that a younger, less qualified person has landed the job for which you interviewed.
  • An interviewer asks about your health, your use of health insurance, or about health conditions more common in older people.
  • An interviewer asks you when you plan to retire.
  • After 50, it takes on average 48 weeks to land a job; for younger job seekers, the average is 25 weeks.

Do you have other examples of ageism in the workplace or job search? Please share them in the comment section below.


Image courtesy Chris Sharp at freedigitalphotos.net.



  1. I was the victim of age discrimination. Six years of legal battles led to my victory in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Yes – age discrimination definitely still exists, and you can find my story online.

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