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A new study measured how men and women experience ageism at work

Pretty much in lockstep.
  • Lila MacLellan
By Lila MacLellan

Quartz at Work senior reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

It’s commonly believed that women are far more likely than men to be victims of ageism in the workplace, but new numbers suggest otherwise.

Fairygodboss, a career site for women, recently  surveyed 1,000 people over the age of 40 to find out how many have encountered ageism in the workplace, what it looks like, and whether men or women are more likely to run into it.

Encouragingly, it found that the majority of respondents (72%) had not been affected by ageism. However, among the people who had felt some age-related discrimination, men and women reported fairly similar experiences. Among men, 13% said they believe their advanced age kept them from being hired; 12% of women said the same thing. Nearly equal numbers of men and women said a coworker had made a negative remark, joking or not, about their age.

Have you experienced what you believe to be ageism in the workplace? Check all that apply:MF
A co-worker has made a negative remark related to your age12%10%
Your boss or another manager has made a negative comment related to your age6%6%
You were overlooked for a promotion for reasons you believe are related to your age8%7%
You were not hired for a job for reasons you believe are related to your age13%12%
You have been laid off for reasons you believe are related to your age5%4%
I have not personally experienced ageism in the workplace70%73%

Probably the most depressing finding from the questionnaire was that most people who had sensed ageism at work noticed it before their 45th birthday.

How old were you the first time you experienced ageism in the workplace?MF
Younger than 4535%39%

Respondents were also asked if they had ever lied about their age, fearing, one supposes, that having some life experience and seniority in the field would be held against them. Only 4% of people said they had. (In this tiny sub-population, people didn’t just fudge their age by a year or two, but rather, most commonly, by three to ten years.)

Rather than outright fib, more employees were likely to report taking steps to just look younger. Still, gender did not dictate who was more likely to get botox or dress differently. Admittedly, women were 1.8 times more likely to color their hair, but the differences between the sexes was otherwise negligible.

Have you taken any of the following steps to appear younger than you are for work purposes? Check all that apply:
Altered dates on my resume, CV, or LinkedIn profile2%
Colored my hair18%
Got botox or another non-surgical, anti-aging treatment2%
Elected to have plastic surgery1%
Dressed in a style different from what I prefer6%
None of the above78%

Unsurprisingly, older employees were most often stereotyped as less tech-savvy and less able or interested in change and learning, in the respondents’ observations. But that’s if they were stereotyped at all; 53% of people said they hadn’t run into any of the cliches that were listed as possibilities.

Have you personally encountered negative stereotypes about older workers? Check all that apply.
Do not have the necessary tech knowledge or skills22%
Are not as willing or able to learn new skills or as open to new ideas22%
Do not have the drive or stamina that younger workers do15%
Are not as productive10%
Salaries are too high, compared to younger colleagues doing equivalent work20%
None of the above53%

Three out of four respondents said they do not fear being “pushed out” at work before they are ready to leave, which sounds positive. But that still leaves a quarter of respondents feeling insecure as the years go by. Recent lawsuits alleging age-discrimination by big employers, including IBM, Citibank, and IKEA, only feed into that anxiety.

Demographics may be on the elders’ side: The oldest millennials are two years away from 40. As that generation accumulates wrinkles and age spots, they may very well insist that attitudes toward the 40-and-over crowd simply adjusts, and the sheer heft of their numbers could actually make it happen.

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