11% of Americans Have Dealt With Ageism at Work — Here’s How They Overcame It

Know how to handle this problem should you face it.

When it comes to landing a job, experience counts. That is, employers typically prefer to hire someone who has spent a few — or several — years working in a similar position. But is there such thing as having too much experience? Can your age be a strike against you — not just when applying for a job but even in a current position?

To find out whether Americans experience ageism in the workplace, GOBankingRates surveyed more than 500 adults over the age of 45. Respondents were asked whether they think their age has prevented them from getting a job or promotion and if it has led employers to treat them unfairly.

Keep reading to see whether older adults think they face discrimination in the workplace because of their age.

11% of Americans Said They Were Mistreated by an Employer Because of Their Age

The survey found that only 11% of Americans over the age of 45 think that their age has caused their past or current employers to treat them unfairly. In fact, the majority — 75% — said they haven’t been discriminated against for any reason. However, that doesn’t mean ageism isn’t a problem in the workplace.

Among respondents who said they were treated unfairly by employers, ageism was the most common type of discrimination. Nearly 45% of older workers who’ve experienced discrimination said they were treated unfairly because of their age. The No. 2 most common cause of unfair treatment was a disability, with 35% of respondents naming this as the reason for the discrimination they’ve faced.

How to Do It: These 13 Women Battled Workplace Discrimination — and Won

The older the respondents, the more likely they were to believe they had been treated unfairly because of their age. The survey found that 50% of adults ages 65 and older who said they had faced discrimination said their age was the source of that discrimination compared to 43% of respondents ages 55 to 64 and about 39% of respondents ages 45 to 54.

And men were more likely than women to believe that they had been treated unfairly because of their age. Among respondents who said they had experienced discrimination, nearly 53% of men versus about 39% of women said they were treated unfairly because of their age.

Reasons Employees Think They’ve Been Treated Unfairly, by Age and Gender*
AgeEthnicityGenderDisabilityReligionSexual OrientationVeteran StatusOtherI have not been treated unfairly by an employer
Ages 45-5410.1%3%4%10.1%2%1%1%3%73.7%
Ages 55-6411%4.8%4.8%10%1.4%0.5%0.5%2.9%74.6%
Ages 65 and over11.6%3.9%5.8%6.8%3.9%1.9%1.9%1.9%76.8%
Men12.8%4%3.1%10.6%2.7%1.3%2.2%0.9%75.7%
Women9.7%4.2%6.6%7.3%2.4%1%0.3%3.8%75.1%
All respondents11%4%5.1%8.8%2.6%1.2%1.2%2.5%75.3%
*Respondents could select more than one response.

Based on Their Experience, Many Americans Believe Age Discrimination Is Common in the Workplace

190424_GBR_DealtWithAgeism_1920x1080-01

The survey asked respondents how common — on a scale of one to five — they thought age discrimination against older workers was based on what they had seen or experienced. Nearly 46% said ageism was common or very common. Less than a quarter of respondents said it was uncommon or very uncommon. And 30% were neutral.

However, respondents who have experienced unfair treatment were much more likely to think that age discrimination was common against older workers. The survey found that 52% of these respondents said ageism was very common and 22% said it was common. Those findings are more in line with an AARP survey of adults over age 45 that found that 61% of respondents had seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace and, of those, 38% believe ageism is very common.

Not Right: 10 Signs of a Toxic Workplace

Respondents ages 55 to 64 were the most likely to think that age discrimination in the workplace was common — with nearly 50% of this age group saying it was common or very common. And about 51% of women compared to 40% of men said age discrimination was common or very common based on what they had seen or experienced.

Older and Disabled Workers Might Have a Tougher Time Getting a Job Due to Discrimination

190424_GBR_DealtWithAgeism_1920x1080-03

The survey found that age and disability were the top two things that respondents said prevented them from getting a job. Almost 14% said their age had hurt their ability to get a job, followed by 11% who said their disability prevented them from getting a job. The majority of respondents said they hadn’t faced any discrimination when applying for jobs.

Adults ages 65 and older were most likely to think their age had prevented them from getting a job, with 15% saying they had experienced this form of discrimination. And a higher percentage of men than women — 16% versus 11% — said their age had prevented them from securing a job.

Other Problems: These 9 States Pay Women Much Less Than Men

Age was also the top reason that respondents said prevented them from getting a promotion.

Reasons Employees Said They Didn’t Get Promoted, By Age and Gender*
AgeEthnicityGenderDisabilityReligionSexual OrientationVeteran StatusOtherI have not been treated unfairly by an employer
Ages 45-549.1%3%3%12.1%2%0%2%2%74.7%
Ages 55-6412%5.7%4.3%11%0.5%1.4%1%1.9%75.1%
Ages 65 and over9.2%3.4%5.8%6.3%2.4%1.4%2.9%4.8%78.7%
Men11.5%5.8%2.2%11.1%0.9%0.9%3.1%0.9%75.2%
Women9.3%3.1%6.6%8%2.1%1.4%1%4.8%77.5%
All respondents10.3%4.3%4.7%9.3%1.6%1.2%1.9%3.1%76.5%
*Respondents could select more than one response.

About 10% said they didn’t get promoted because of their age, followed by 9% who said their disability was the cause. Again, the majority of respondents said they hadn’t been treated unfairly by an employer.

Men were slightly more likely than women to believe that their age had prevented them from getting a promotion — about 12% compared to 9%. And respondents ages 55 to 64 were the most likely of the age groups surveyed to think that their age had stopped them from getting promoted — with 12% naming it as a source of discrimination compared to 9% of 45- to 54-year-olds and adults ages 65 and older.

Many Americans Believe Workers Begin to Face Ageism Sometime in Their 50s

190424_GBR_DealtWithAgeism_1920x1080-02

The survey found that Americans are most likely to think that workers start to face age discrimination in their early 50s. About 22% of respondents said employers begin to face ageism from ages 50 to 54, followed by about 20% who think age discrimination begins at ages 55 to 59 and 19% who think it starts at ages 60 to 64. Only 7% of respondents said age discrimination begins as early as age 40.

Younger respondents ages 45 to 54 were most likely of any age group to think that workers started facing age discrimination in their early 50s. Respondents ages 55 and older were more likely to think that workers didn’t start facing ageism until their late 50s or early 60s.

Men were slightly more likely than women to think that age discrimination started at a younger age. The survey found that 11% of men versus about 6% of women said workers started experiencing age discrimination at age 45. And 24% of men compared to 21% of women said workers started to face ageism at age 50.

Be Aware: 15 Signs Your Employer Wants You to Retire

Here’s How Americans Overcame Ageism in Their Workplace

Not only did the survey seek to find out whether Americans think they have faced age discrimination in the workplace, but it also asked how workers have dealt with ageism. Several respondents who said they overcame age discrimination said they did so by working harder to prove they were as capable or more capable than younger employees. Several said that they quit jobs where they faced ageism and found workplaces that treated them better.

However, some said they weren’t able to overcome age discrimination. They were fired, forced into retirement or continued working in difficult situations. One respondent said that she lied about her age during interviews to avoid discrimination. Another said that during phone interviews for jobs, employers have hung up once they found out her age.

Don’t Want to Leave Your Job? 12 Ways to Make It Work With a Bad Boss

How to Avoid Age Discrimination

Although the majority of older workers don’t think they’ve been treated unfairly by employers, those who have faced discrimination said their age is the top reason they’ve been treated unfairly. To address ageism in the workplace, employees need to know their rights, said Laurie McCann, senior attorney for the AARP Foundation.

The Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employment discrimination against workers who are 40 or older. “If you suspect you are being treated unfairly based on your age, it may not hurt to let your employer/supervisor know that you are aware of your rights under the ADEA or state law,” McCann said. “Sometimes, they assume you aren’t aware of such protections.”

If you have been treated unfairly because of your age, keep a record of incidents that show you’re a victim of age discrimination. Then talk with your manager about your concerns or file an internal grievance, McCann said. If that doesn’t stop the discrimination, you could file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Typically, you must file a complaint within 180 to 300 days of the alleged discriminatory action, she said.

However, proving age discrimination can be difficult. That’s why McCann said it’s better to “do everything in your power to avoid becoming a victim.” Make sure you’re staying on top of developments in your field by seeking training at your workplace and on your own, she said. Ask for feedback on your performance so you can address any concerns your employer might have. And when applying for jobs, only include the most recent or relevant positions you’ve had on your resume and be prepared to answer questions about whether you’re overqualified for the position, she said.

Click through to read more about which jobs have women closing the wage gap.

More on Jobs

Methodology: GOBankingRates surveyed 515 Americans over the age of 45 to find out whether they’ve experienced ageism at work. Respondents were asked the following questions: 1) Do you think any of the following have caused your past or current employers to treat you unfairly? Select all that apply; 2) Do you think any of the following have prevented you from securing a job? Select all that apply; 3) Do you think any of the following have prevented you from getting promoted? Select all that apply; 4) At what age do you think older workers begin to face age discrimination?; 5) How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statement: I have experienced ageism in the workplace; 6) In a few words, please explain how you overcame ageism in the workplace. The survey was conducted by Survata from March 28, 2019, through April 4, 2019.