Pro Take: What Is That Job Ad Really Saying? Fed Paper Looks at Ageism in Tight Labor Market


According to the government, the US workforce is aging, and by 2031, there will be approximately 4.8 million more workers aged 65 or above. However, many companies do not want to hire older workers and may use language in their job ads to discourage them from applying. Age discrimination is also a significant concern among workers aged 40 and above, with 64% believing that older workers face discrimination, and 41% reporting ageism at work within the past three years. A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that using subtly ageist language in job ads could deter older workers from applying and could be as damaging as not hiring them at all. 

Researchers posted fake job ads seeking applicants for administrative, security, and retail sales positions in 14 cities and estimated applicants' age based on their resumes. To target younger workers, the fake ads used language seeking applicants up-to-date with industry jargon, dynamic communicators, fit and energetic, and digital natives with social media backgrounds.

In order to test for age discrimination in job advertisements, a group of researchers created fake job ads with and without ageist language. They found that the ads with ageist language discouraged older job seekers from applying, leading to an average applicant age that was 2.5 years younger than the control group without the language. Even though overt discrimination in job ads, such as specifying the ages of applicants, is generally illegal, the AARP has advocated for state laws that prevent employers from asking for age-related information on initial job applications.

 Human resources managers can help to combat ageism in employment ads, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission could provide stronger guidance on language. As older workers continue to make up a larger portion of the workforce, it will be increasingly important for companies to avoid coded language that could exclude them and maintain a healthy job market.

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