Study Finds that Older Women Face More Discrimination than Older Men

A lot has been written lately about women’s continued struggle for equal pay and opportunities in the workplace.  Nothing about those struggles is surprising.  However, a recent study shows that as women age in the workforce, things become worse for them.  Not only are they experiencing gender discrimination, but age discrimination as well. This discrimination within discrimination is surprising and disheartening.

Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted large-scale field experiments, called résumé correspondence studies, to test for age discrimination in the job market.  Age discrimination, like gender discrimination, is illegal.  They sent out 40,000 résumés for fake applicants to a multitude of employers where the credentials in the résumés were identical, but applicants’ names and years of graduation were adjusted to reflect their gender and age.  The résumés with women’s names were submitted primarily for two categories of positions: (1) administrative and (2) sales.  The résumés with men’s names were also submitted primarily for two categories of positions: (1) janitorial and security guard, and (2) sales.  The researchers submitted these résumés through job search websites advertising for these positions and then measured which of the résumés received call backs from the employers.

Although the researchers were testing for age discrimination, the study revealed a different subset of discrimination at play: gender discrimination specifically affecting older women.

Across all occupations, women ages 64 to 66 had lower callback rates (12 percent) than women ages 29 to 31 (19 percent).  Further, women ages 55 to 58 received lower call back rates (9 percent) as compared to women ages 35 to 37 and 40 to 42 (11 to 12 percent).  That part is not really surprising in that we know age discrimination is alive and well.  What was surprising is that the older men did not have lower call back rates than the younger men, except with regard to the janitorial jobs.

These findings are significant in terms of showing that employers have biases against older female job candidates that they do not have against their male counterparts.  In the real world, discriminatory conduct like this would, of course, be illegal under federal and state laws that prohibit gender discrimination and age discrimination.

Women of all ages are an essential and valuable segment of the U.S. workforce.  The goal is for employers to make employment decisions based on a candidate’s qualifications and ability to perform the job, not based on negative biases and stereotypes related to a person’s gender or age.  This study brings a surprising consciousness to the unjustified biases and discrimination against older women workers.  Hopefully, once recognized, employers and employees can both do their parts to take action to correct these discriminatory behaviors.

For more information on the National Bureau of Economic Research study, please visit