Keywords in Job Ads Could Translate to Older Workers Need Not Apply

The senior adult woman waits nervously as the unrecognizable male manager reviews her resume.
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Ageism in the workplace is becoming a hot topic lately — especially as more and more Americans are choosing to work longer, as GOBankingRates previously reported. This choice is often made out of necessity to pay bills or to reap full Social Security benefits.

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Although ageism is illegal in the hiring process and as regards workplace conduct, 78% of older employees said they have experienced discrimination due to their age, according to a Dec. 2020 AARP survey. As CNBC notes, that’s the highest percentage since AARP began posing that question in 2003.

Over 40? You May Be Facing Barriers to Employment

There are established guidelines for conduct in accordance with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) that protects workers ages 40 or older, but that hasn’t prevented some employers from getting away with illegal behaviors. For example, the ADEA stipulates that any job posting is not able to “contain terms and phrases that limit or deter the employment of older individuals.” Yet many employers are now using veiled language in hiring announcements to imply that older workers need not apply.

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As the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College notes, some examples might include seeking “energetic” (aka younger) applicants, or stating they want candidates with no more than a certain number of years of relevant experience (i.e. if you have 20+ years of experience, move along). Perhaps the post references newer technology platforms that older job seekers may not be familiar with, and are intimidated by. 

The Center points to a recent experiment by researchers at the University of Liverpool and the University of California at Irvine in which they posted 18 faux job announcements in 14 U.S. markets — including top tier job markets like New York and San Diego. The fake posts sought security guards, administrative assistants and retail employees. In half of the announcements, researchers used neutral language. In the other half, they used the type of overt language that the AARP has deemed “ageist.”

Study Results Indicate Older Applicants Hesitant to Seek Many Jobs

Overall, researchers found that older job seekers were far less likely to apply in response to the employment openings containing ageist terms.

“Job-ad language related to ageist stereotypes, even when the language is not blatantly or specifically age-related, deters older workers from applying for jobs,” an introduction to the research paper reads, in part.

Whereas before, an employer might discard an application attached to a job-seeker they felt was “too old” for the job, now many of those aged 40+ aren’t even applying. As a result of their findings, researchers have called on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to further enforce policies — and provide more guidelines to employers outlining acceptable hiring and recruitment practices.

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As the job market bounces back post-pandemic, with more openings to fill (around 10.7 million as of late June, as noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), this age — and experience gap — may become more and more prominent.

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About the Author

Selena Fragassi joined in 2022, adding to her 15 years in journalism with bylines in Spin, Paste, Nylon, Popmatters, The A.V. Club, Loudwire, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others. She currently resides in Chicago with her rescue pets and is working on a debut historical fiction novel about WWII. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago.
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