Ageism still ‘significant’ in UK labour market

Published: 20 February 2017 at 11:00

Older man during a job interview

New study suggests Equality Act has done little to impact age prejudices

Simple prejudice against people aged over 50 is affecting older people trying to gain employment and legislation has done little to help, according to a new study published in the journal Applied Economics Letters.

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University sent 894 pairs of applications to firms with a variety of vacancies in white-collar, pink-collar (restaurants, sales) and blue-collar positions – one from a fictitious 28-year-old white British male, the other from a fictitious 50-year-old white British male. The study was carried out alongside a similar experiment with 898 pairs of applications being filled out on behalf of two fictitious black British males of similar ages.

Researchers sought to minimise the stereotyping of older applicants as less active, less motivated and less adaptable than younger workers by ensuring their background information contained current work experience, physical hobbies like cycling and mountain biking, and interests which demonstrated mental flexibility like learning foreign languages and working with computers.

The research found that the older white British applicant was 21.9% less likely to be invited for interview when compared to the younger white British applicant. The older black British applicant was 24% less likely to get an interview compared to the younger black British applicant – suggesting that applicants of minority race encounter higher levels of ageism than those from the majority race.

In each study the older applicant also received interviews for lower-paid positions. The older white British applicant was invited for interview for vacancies offering 9.9% lower wages than the younger white British jobseeker. In the parallel study, the older black applicant was offered interview for positions paying 15.7% less than jobs for which the younger applicant was invited to interview for.

Dr Nick Drydakis, Reader in Economics at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“Our results suggest that ageism plays a significant role in the UK labour market. We find that older people must apply to more vacancies than the young to obtain an interview. Furthermore, older workers are invited to interview for lower-paid jobs, potentially affecting their standard of living.

“Our data was collected after the Equality Act 2010 was enacted. That we still find compelling evidence of ageism suggests that legislation has not been sufficient to eliminate age discrimination. In this study, because we have controlled for the older applicants’ mental and physical capacities, simple prejudice against people aged over 50 is likely to be the reason for ageism.”

“Our results also suggest a need for further anti-racial discrimination policies. Since the presence of a minority racial background can exacerbate ageism, establishment of equal opportunities in the labour market remains an important task for policy makers.”