Older WOrkers

Ready, willing, and very able: What you need to know about older workers

Workers and job seekers aged 60 and over still see ageism in the workplace
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How do you define an older worker? Someone aged 65 or older? 55 or older? How about 45 or older?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses 55 as the starting point when it’s pulling together its statistics on who is in the labor force. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act goes even younger, protecting job seekers and employees who are 40 or older from workplace discrimination on the basis of age.

Graphic explaining that 78% of Baby Boomers believe their age would be a contribution factor when being considered for a new position

Despite that law, older adults say they still see ageism in the workplace.

One recent survey finds that 78% of Baby Boomers (people aged 60 to 78) believe their “age would be a contributing factor when being considered for a new position” and 65% believe their age puts them at a disadvantage.

The same survey finds that 53% of Baby Boomers say their age limits their career opportunities.

Ageism is not just in the minds of older adults.

The Midcareer Opportunity: Meeting the Challenges of an Ageing Workforce details the findings from a survey of thousands of hiring managers, employees, and job seekers in the U.S., Europe, and the U.K.

The research reveals “unfounded but deep-seated ageism,” according to the report.

In the broader survey, 79% of hiring managers say they “probably would or definitely would hire someone aged 45-54,” but that result drops to just 50% for job candidates aged 55-65.

Employers in the U.S. appear to be more open to hire the older job seeker, with 88% saying they would hire someone aged 45-54 and 66% saying they would hire someone aged 55-65.

By comparison, 85% of the hiring managers worldwide say they would “probably or definitely hire someone aged 30-44.”

What’s behind the bias? Hiring managers and employers believe people in the midcareer and older age groups are reluctant to try new technologies and skills and are slow to adapt.

But when you ask those same hiring managers how their existing employees age 45+ perform, 89% say they perform the same or better than younger peers. Again, in the U.S., that percentage is higher at 97%.

Our Workforce is Getting Older

There’s never a good excuse for ageism, but it is especially troubling at a time when more and more older adults are choosing to stay in the workforce longer out of necessity or because they just like working.

There were 11 million Americans aged 65 and older working last year. That’s nearly one in five people (19%) in the entire U.S. labor force. And that percentage is expected to grow to one in four (25%) over the next few years, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Age bias in the workforce was top of mind at the American Society on Aging‘s annual conference last month in San Francisco.

I joined some excellent thought leaders on older workers on stage – Kerry Hannon, columnist, Yahoo! Finance; Catherine Collinson, CEO and president, Transamerica Institute; and Haleh Nazeri, lead, Longevity Economy, World Economic Forum – to discuss what employers should be doing about it.

panel discussion at On Aging 2024 conference
Kerry Hannon, Catherine Collinson, Haleh Nazeri, and Ramona Schindelheim at the On Aging 2024 conference in March 2024

Afterwards, I asked them to share their thoughts with me about the problem. I also spoke with Janine Vanderburg with Changing the Narrative, who received the award for Success in Diminishing Ageism. Here is a sampling of what they told me.

Catherine Collinson

“An individual’s age is an all-critical yet often overlooked dimension of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Now, the buzz about older workers and the need for age-friendly workplaces is getting even buzzier across a broad group of stakeholders including policymakers, experts on aging, employers, and individuals.

“Workers of all ages should have access to meaningful employment and opportunities to succeed. A national movement is gaining traction to address ageism and encourage an age-inclusive workplaces. The societal and economic benefits are simply too great to ignore.”

Kerry Hannon

“What struck me from the panels was the disconnect from what employers say they are doing to retain older workers and hire them and their actions. The same old story continues. Their aspirations and reality of what they’re doing just don’t match up.

“There are glimmers that they may be starting to grasp that the future is going to demand a more open mindset and skills-building at all ages and, yep, the most important facet of all flexibility in terms of where and when older workers do their jobs. That is the lynchpin.”

Janine Vanderburg

“The opportunity is for all of us who care about employment of older adults and related issues (workplace age discrimination, need for upskilling, etc.) to raise our voices at the state level as these plans are being created, and show the importance of this issue not only to older adults, but to businesses who need skilled workforces and to the overall economy. That’s something I plan to work on this year.”

The Benefits of a Multi-Generational Team

Making sure that older workers aren’t left out of the workforce isn’t just good for an employee, it’s good for employers, according to AARP.

“Older workers bring work experience and strong employability skills to the workplace. In fact, older workers have performed the same as, or better, than their younger counterparts on seven of 10 most important employability skills. Younger brains are faster, older brains have more context and judgment. In short, the 50+ workforce bring the experience and employability skills that employers need.”

AARP research shows an age-diverse workforce gives companies a competitive advantage in the following ways:

  • Stronger pipeline of talent providing continuity, stability, and retention of intellectual capital.
  • Multi-generational teams perform better.
  • Best way to service the age-diverse market is with an age-diverse workforce.
  • Age-diverse workforce provide greater diversity of ideas, knowledge, and skills ets.  
  • 7 out of 10 workers in the U.S. enjoy working with people from other generations.
  • Older workers appreciate the creativity of younger workers and younger workers appreciate the value of older workers’ experience, institutional knowledge and wisdom.

Read more WorkingNation coverage of older workers, their challenges, and opportunities here.