Facing Age Bias? Don't Let It Hold You Back

Gail Belsky career reinventionI know a few people in their 40s and 50s who reinvented themselves the old-fashioned way: They went back to school. One became a high school teacher. Another became a psychologist. And a third went through an extensive wine certification program and became the marketing director for a wine retailer.

School is like the Play-Doh factory of career reinvention; you go in one way, and come out as something completely different. There's no guarantee that you'll succeed in your new form, but at least you've got the credentials.

And I thought there was also another benefit: Starting from scratch with a brand new degree puts you on equal footing with younger job candidates, who are also starting from scratch with a brand new degree. In other words, no age issues.

So, a few months ago, when I ran across a graduate program that offered digital media courses and the possibility of a full fellowship (covering tuition, and a stipend), I was definitely interested. Then I talked to someone familiar with the program, and she told me that the company tended to give the fellowships to "younger" students.

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It was stunning to hear someone say that out loud, but beyond that, it made no sense. What difference does it make if I'm a 25-year-old starting out or a 50-year-old starting over? And isn't this ageism -- and against the law?


I don't know whether this fellowship would be covered under standard employment law, but in typical employment situations, it's illegal to make age-based assumptions and decisions when hiring people over 40. That's the law. But what is happening in the real world?

I posed that question to Carl Van Horn, the director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, and the author of a new book called Working Scared (Or Not at All). When it comes to age issues, "employers are pursuing their best interest," says Van Horn. Primarily, they don't want to spend money to train older workers who may leave before they see a return on their investment.

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Over the past 15 years, Van Horn and his researchers have interviewed 5,000 older workers and 1,000 employers. As he explains it, large corporations, in particular, worry that older workers will either retire, or jump ship sooner than younger ones would. (Carl Van Horn was a guest on AOL Jobs' Lunchtime Live program Friday. Watch the highlights.)

"The perception is that when you hire someone who has earned a lot more and has more experience, they're going to make a leap toward greener pastures," says Van Horn.

Really? When I was a young worker, the only way to get big pay increases was to change jobs, which I did numerous times. Now, I have my children's college tuitions to pay, and retirement to save for. I'm looking at least 15 more years of work, and I'd rather do it in one place. How many 30-year-olds would say that?

I have no idea if the company with the fellowships really has a preference for younger workers, and I probably won't have the chance to find out. Right now, I have to pursue my best interest, which is making a living. And of course, if age did keep me from getting in, I would never know it for sure.

What about you? How has your age worked against you in the labor market -- or applying to degree programs?

Age Discrimination in the Corporate Setting




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Angela J Shirley

As a 55 year old long-term unemployed that has been laid off 3 times - I would like to know what steps can be taken to prove "age discrimination".. Yes, it is against the law, but how do we prove it and then what are the consequences. I have nothing against articles like these that discuss the problem. Trust me, I am living it. It is time for ACTION and SOLUTIONS. We don't need any more research. Jobs are needed for the over 50 whether it takes money to train us. Is it fair that due to no fault of ours, we are being laid off and not having any options of finding another job? The first 2 times I was laid off, I was able to get another job quickly and before my unemployment benefits ran out. This last time in 2008, my unemployment benefits ran out in 2010. Here it is 2013 and I am still unemployed and use to be able to get temporary gigs - now those are not as available due to the economy. More companies are now expecting their employees to double up and do more, so no need to hire temporary help when needed. http://rockportinstitute.com/

December 12 2013 at 7:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Manifesting Talent

People should be hired based upon Capacity and Suitability, regardless of age.

March 25 2013 at 3:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jim

ITS ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU RETIRE

March 19 2013 at 2:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gmgpjandon

Isn't ageism against the law?? As she tools down the highway at twenty over, with her cell phone stuck in her head.

March 19 2013 at 12:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Debbie

I'm the oldest one in the office. A young man in his thirties, constantly tells me how to do things. He even sent me an email telling me what I should do if he doesn't answer his phone when I transfer a call to him. I'm not a receptionist but I certainly know how to take a message! I'm a manager, he's not, but he acts as though I work for him. Hmmm maybe he needs more work to do?

March 18 2013 at 11:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
toddisit

Too old to qualify, too young to retire. Go figure out that logic!

March 18 2013 at 10:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mmtodaro

absolutely, you cannot even get past the online apps these days. Employers make it mandatory to fill in your date of birth or date of graduation so that they can figure out how old you are and not even consider your application. I have been passed over numerous times because a younger applicant seems more hirable. why? The will call in due to sick children, etc when I just want to work hard and pay my bills.

March 18 2013 at 5:01 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mmtodaro's comment
wlh1923

Guess the issue is - would you prefer a new pair a shoes or a used pair for the same price

March 19 2013 at 11:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jmnardihrt

The thing here is, WHAT IS A CARRER TODAY ? 10-12 YEARS AT ONE PLACE. Then they either close, merge or go belly-up. I'm 53 , I hear that we are looking for someone who wants a career ? So of I stay there until I'm 67 I'd have given them 14 years !! I bet a 25 year old will switch jobs 5 times within that span.

March 18 2013 at 3:14 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jmnardihrt

Age doesnt work against you - EXPERIENCE -does. For example, I get a call for someone who wants me to do business development for her company. It decide to hear her out and the position pays about 1/2 of what I'm looking for, but if you are good, you can close the gap somewhat. She goes on to give me a metric which "all of their sales reps are supposed to meet" Instantly, I or anyone with a half a sense of sales would know that what she is saying is expected and done is absolutely, totally impossible to do. I hesitated on the phone screen after she gave me this rediculously bogus number and with that she passed on me. My experience cost me. Inexperienced interviewees would say : "Of course I could do that " and probably be considered, rather than considering the person who knows the demand is absurd ! I don't even think this "Numb-Nuts" phone screener knew the metric was unattainable and defended it like it was gospel. Then the question begs to be asked : If all of their reps do what they are asking of me and there are enough of them, why need me ? An inexperienced person who doesn't know better will get the job. Age has nonthong to do with it.

March 18 2013 at 3:07 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
whitedd99

Nothing mentioned about age/reverse discrimination. I once, at age 32, took a company sponsored course in Contract law. The instructor encouraged me to apply to DU Law School. So, I took the LSAT, got a grade in the high 80's 7 was supprised to be rejected. My instructor took it upon himself to find out why. His answer - I was an over thirty WASP and spots were being given to younger, latinos & blacks per the new discriminatory laws. So much for fairness.

March 18 2013 at 2:40 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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