The chances of being contacted by an employer in Sweden after applying for a job fall sharply after an individual reaches the age of 40; and closer to retirement age, very few job applicants are contacted. What''s more, age discrimination is greater against older women than against older men.
These are the findings of research by Magnus Carlsson and Stefan Eriksson, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society''s annual conference at the University of Sussex in Brighton in March 2018. Their study suggests that employers perceive older workers as less able to learn new tasks, less flexible, and less ambitious.
Age discrimination in hiring is widespread
In their study, more than 6,000 fictitious job applications were sent to employers advertising for administrative assistants, chefs, cleaners, food serving staff, retail sales persons, sales representatives and truck drivers. Employers'' responses were then recorded, for example, in the form of invitations to job interviews.
The study finds that middle-aged and older jobseekers are avoided by employers. The chance of being contacted by an employer after applying for a job falls sharply when workers are in their 40s, and then continues to fall almost linearly with the applicant''s age.
Closer to the retirement age, the chance of being contacted is very low – only around 2-3%. Ten years of ageing results in an around five percentage points lower chance of being contacted by an employer.
''There is no doubt that employers are age discriminating'', says co-author Magnus Carlsson. ''We find very big effects, and age is clearly a negative factor in the recruitment process.''
The study also investigates how an applicant''s age and gender interact. It is shown that age discrimination is greater against women than against men.
Employers perceive older workers as less able to learn new tasks, less flexible, and less ambitious
A survey sent to a representative sample of employers shows that there are three characteristics that employers both consider as important and worry that workers over 40 are beginning to lose: the ability to learn new tasks; to be adaptable and flexible; and to be ambitious.
''Employers may believe that workers lose these abilities already when they are middle-aged'', says co-author Stefan Eriksson.
Lower labour force participation and mobility among the older workers
Age discrimination can have important economic and social consequences. The demographic challenge caused by an ageing population means that it is important that people stay longer in the labour market, which is difficult to achieve if there is age discrimination in hiring.
Age discrimination may also lead to lower worker mobility. If older workers expect to be discriminated against, they may not seek a new job or find a new job, which reduces mobility. These effects may result in lower labour market efficiency and lower economic growth.
Finally, people who do not feel needed in the labour market may suffer a psychological cost.
Field experiment – a method of measuring discrimination
In order to investigate whether there is age discrimination in the Swedish labour market, a field experiment was conducted in 2015 and 2016. More than 6,000 job applications for fictitious applicants aged 35-70 were sent to employers who advertised for workers.
Age was varied in applications, which were otherwise designed to be qualitatively identical. Employers'' responses were then measured, for example, in the form of invitations to job interviews.
In the experiment, the researchers have full control over the content in the applications, and therefore can be certain that any difference in the chance of being contacted by an employer is due to age discrimination and not to any other difference between the applicants.