Ageism, sexism and racism still rife in labor market

December 4, 2022

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Ageism, sexism and racism still rife in labor market

Discrimination against older job applicants is compounded by gender and race, according to a new study showing that ageism is still rife in the UK labour market.

The research, published in the journal Employee Relations, involved four simultaneous experiments where online job applications from fictitious candidates were made for real UK job vacancies in sales, restaurants and cafes.

In the first experiment, the research team sent pairs of matched applications from the control, a fictitious 28-year-old white British male, and from a fictitious 50-year-old white British male (experiment one).

The second experiment paired them with a 50-year-old white British female, the third with a 50-year-old black British male, and the fourth experiment with a 50-year-old black British female.

There were 190 pairs of matched applications in experiment one, 221 pairs in experiment two, 184 pairs in experiment three and 209 pairs in experiment four.

The applications consisted of an email complete with the attachment of an application letter and a CV. All CVs contained information about applicants’ demographic characteristics and work experience. They included the applicants’ year of birth, gender, ethnicity, marital status (married, one child), closely matched previous employment and education (in each experiment, both applicants had completed school to Year 11), hobbies (sports and cinema) and contact information.

In all experiments, the younger white British male was significantly more likely to be offered a job interview – 16% more likely than the 50-year-old white British male; 18% more likely than the 50-year-old white British female; 22% more likely than the 50-year-old black British male; and 29% more likely than the 50-year-old black British female.

In addition, the younger white British male candidate was offered interviews for jobs that had a higher average annual salary compared to all other demographics in the experiments. Older white British males were offered interviews for jobs with an annual salary on average 11.5% lower than the 28-year-old white British male. This figure was 12% lower for older white British females and 13% lower for older black British males, while older black British females received offers of interviews for jobs where the salary was 15% lower.

The study is the first to compare access to vacancies and wage sorting between older and younger workers, cross-comparing with gender and race.

What the researchers say: “It is clear that, several years after the introduction of the 2010 Equality Act, age discrimination in the labor market persists,” the lead author commented. “Our research shows this gulf is exacerbated by factors of race and gender. These results suggest that older people might have to spend more time, effort and resources than younger people to obtain an interview for a lower-paid vacancy, despite often having many years of experience in the workplace behind them.

“The UK has an ageing population and the retirement age is increasing. An active older population enjoying equal treatment in the job market will be better able to contribute to growth and the economy.”

So, what? The truth is that there is increasing competition for lower-paid jobs—both from other workers and from robots and AI. The world has a huge surplus of workers and overall the wages of the lower paid have not risen in real terms since the 1980s.

Since governments constantly need new tax revenue, they try to enable people to work longer and therefore rely on social security less. Heaven forbid, that they should adequately tax rich individuals or corporations to provide a decent income for all their citizens.

This sets up fierce competition between male and female, young and old, white and non-white for the declining pot of jobs. Employers believe that they can exploit younger workers more than older ones, even though they may have to pay them slightly more.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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