Monday, July 23, 2012

Age Bias

A reader pointed me to a September 1, 2011 Computerworld article about age bias:

Age bias is "something that no [employer] talks about. But it's a reality in tech that if you're 45 years of age and still writing C code or Cobol code and making $150,000 a year, the likelihood is that you won't be employed very long," says Vivek Wadhwa, who currently holds academic positions at several universities, including UC Berkeley, Duke and Harvard.
As Wadhwa's observation indicates, "age bias" is a simplistic label for a complicated set of factors that influence the job prospects for senior tech employees. When considering workers over the age of 50, employers take the following factors into account:
• The relevance, applicability and currency of their skills, which may or may not be up to par with those of younger employees.
• The level of compensation they expect, which is typically higher than the salaries younger people seek.
• Their behaviors and attitudes, which can become rigid and narrow-minded with age.
• Their energy level, which is presumed to be less than that of a 25-year-old.
While none of these generalizations is necessarily true for any particular candidate, each is a stereotypical assumption about older workers. What's more, they are all logical and legal reasons for an employer to fire, or not hire, someone.
Essentially, the article is saying that because older workers (many of whom are not making even close to $150,000 a year) are more likely to have these characteristics than younger workers, employers are free to discriminate based on age, and it will be hard to second-guess the decision.


  1. Will this ever change? Seems unlikely unless we get to a point where there are more openings than young people to fill them in which case employers "might" lower their requirements with respect to age because they have no choice.

    While clearly biases are at play against older people including the reasons given I'm convinced that the need to weed a huge pile of applications down to a more manageable size for HR and managers to handle is also a big reason for this.

    I have 20+ years of work experience in IT and software development but never finished a degree. I find it rather discouraging. I'd like to get the degree but as I would be at least 50 when I finished it and would have to borrow money and raid retirement to do it with the age discrimination problem I just can't seem to get motivated to take the high risk. Get a STEM degree and be encouraged to go into retailing or service sector because I'm too old for anything else. Of course I might have a better chance if I got a business degree, but I don't want to be the pointy haired weasel which is what is expected.

    Project management was mentioned as an area where older workers have a better chance of being hired, but I just can't get excited about that. I spent the last few years with HP before I was WFR'd in a project management role and I hated it which wasn't good for my rankings.... In my 15+ years at HP I was contract for all but the last 5 years and in retrospect being contractor was preferable over HP because I could at least avoid most meetings and the dreaded stack rankings!

    I guess I will raid my small retirement account and try and to get some kind of business going if I can't get a real job in my career field. If only I was just 10-15 years younger making decisions would be so much easier.

    Praying there isn't another four years of Barry otherwise I fear I'll be holding a sign at the intersection of Fairview and Eagle Road............

  2. If I remember correctly, the age-discrimination statutes require you to treat workers between the ages of 40 and 70 "equally". Those limits were to allow employers to discriminate against *younger* workers, who may not be as mature, etc., and to protect close-to-retirement workers.

    However, that interpretation of the law allows employers to treat 40-70-year-olds equally *badly*, and worse than younger workers, as well.

  3. The unintended consequence of companies turning the age-discrimination law around, is the younger workers see no reason to develop any loyalty to their current (or any) employer. If you think business is not paying a price for this, guess again. I suspect this cost could be tracked, by a diligent investigator.

    Also, when employees are seen to be harmed by a company, the internal culture deteriorates. This is a related/overlapping problem. Separating the two might be difficult.