According to recently released data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of the US workforce is between forty and seventy-five years old, with the 45–49 and 50–54 age groups being the two largest segments of the working population. Furthermore, the segment of the workforce aged fifty-five to seventy-five is expected to grow by 11 million over the next ten years, at which time it will comprise close to 25 percent of the total workforce. Even before the Great Recession, increasing numbers of older workers were expressing interest in postponing retirement; recent economic events have only strengthened that trend. Therefore, age-related topics have attracted more and more research attention in the organizational sciences.
Age Stereotypes and Discrimination
Age stereotypes are schema or cognitive categories that people use to evaluate others based on their age. Age stereotyping occurs in two stages. In the first stage, often called stereotype activation, a perceiver classifies a target individual into a group based on some visible characteristic, such as age. The perceiver is more likely to retrieve negative characteristics if the target is viewed as an out-group member (e.g., “He is old and I am young”) rather than an in-group member (e.g., “He is a young man like me”). In the second stage of age stereotyping, often called stereotype application, the perceiver uses the retrieved age stereotype to evaluate and predict the behavior of the target. Age stereotypes, in turn, become cases of age discrimination, where older workers are evaluated less favourably than younger workers. In organizational research, age stereotypes and discrimination have been found to influence many human resource practices, such as hiring and promotional decisions. At the same time, some researchers, in works such as Ng and Feldman 2012, have shown that many age stereotypes are either outdated or not evidenced-based.
Avolio, Bruce J., and Gerald V. Barrett. “Effects of Age Stereotyping in a Simulated Interview.” Psychology and Aging 2.1 (1987): 56–63.
These authors found that older job applicants received lower interview ratings than younger job applicants, even though both groups have similar qualifications. Thus, this study provides direct evidence that age stereotypes affect human resource practices.
Kleiman, Lawrence S., and Mark L. Lengnick-Hall. “Age Discrimination and Personnel Psychology: A Review and Synthesis of the Legal Literature with Implications for Future Research.” Personnel Psychology 37.2 (1984): 327–350.
These authors review the literature on age discrimination and highlight the legal issues on which managers and organizations should focus. Readers who are interested in understanding the legal consequences of age discrimination in the workplace should find this article very helpful.
Kunze, Florian, Stephan A. Boehm, and Heike Bruch. “Age Diversity, Age Discrimination Climate and Performance Consequences: A Cross Organizational Study.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 32.2 (2011): 264–290.
These authors found that an age-diverse workplace is more likely to be associated with perceptions of an age discrimination climate, which, in turn, hampers employees’ commitment and organizational performance. This article provides evidence that age discrimination, in the long run and at an aggregative level, would lower organizational productivity.
Ng, Thomas W. H., and Daniel C. Feldman. “Evaluating Six Common Stereotypes about Older Workers with Meta-analytical Data.” Personnel Psychology 65.4 (2012): 821–858.
This study evaluates the cumulated empirical evidence on common age stereotypes. The authors present evidence that many of the age stereotypes are not supported by cumulative empirical data. Readers should find this article helpful if they want to find out whether common age stereotypes about older workers are evidenced-based.
Perry, Elissa L., and Lisa M. Finkelstein. “Toward a Broader View of Age Discrimination in Employment-Related Decisions: A Joint Consideration of Organizational Factors and Cognitive Processes.” Human Resource Management Review 9 (1999): 21–49.
The authors suggest that organizational factors, such as structure, values, and technology, would influence the likelihood of age discrimination in the workplace. Unlike other studies, which focus on individual factors, this article focuses on the contextual factors that might promote or reduce the occurrences of age discrimination.
Perry, E. L., C. T. Kulik, and A. C. Bourhis. “Moderating Effects of Personal and Contextual Factors in Age Discrimination.” Journal of Applied Psychology 81.6 (1996): 628–647.
These authors found, in a simulated selection context, that recruiters were less likely to select older workers when they held a bias against older workers, when they did not have cognitive resources to inhibit the use of age-related stereotypes, and when applicants applied for age-incongruent jobs. Therefore, age discrimination in the workplace is likely a result of both individual and contextual factors, and not just one.
Posthuma, Richard A., and Michael A. Campion. “Age Stereotypes in the Workplace: Common Stereotypes, Moderators, and Future Research Directions.” Journal of Management 35.1 (2009): 158–188.
The authors present qualitative evidence that many age stereotypes are either outdated or not evidence-based. Similar to Ng and Feldman 2012, this article provides readers with useful information on whether common age stereotypes about older workers are evidenced-based.
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