Age-related stereotypes and discrimination in the workplace are all too common. In a study that earned a 2020 Bronze Innovative Research on Aging Award, researchers examined older employees’ perceptions of workplace age discrimination and its effect on employee health and intention to retire. The study was guided by a theory that older adults’ persistent exposure to age discrimination overwhelms their ability to cope and subsequently harms health.
The researchers analyzed data from the 2010, 2012, and 2014 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a longitudinal study of US adults age 50 and over. A total of 3,957 participants who worked at least part-time during each study year were included in the study. Researchers hypothesized that over time, perceptions of age discrimination would lead to increased depression, decreases in health, declines in job satisfaction, and reduced likelihood of working past retirement age. Perceptions of workplace discrimination were measured by agreement with two statements: “In decisions about promotion, my employer gives younger people preference over older people,” and “My coworkers make older workers feel that they ought to retire before age 65.” Measures of depression, overall health, job satisfaction, and likelihood of working past retirement age were also included in the study.
The study showed that, on average, older workers reported increases in perceptions of age discrimination at work over the study years. Three of the four study predictions were realized. While increases in perceived discrimination did not reduce the likelihood of working past retirement age, increases in perceived discrimination were related to increases in depressive symptoms, declines in job satisfaction, and declines in overall self-reported health. This provides support for the theory that age discrimination is a chronic stressor that can negatively impact health. To address age discrimination in the workplace, the authors called for interventions based on contact with older adults, education about stereotypes, and expanded federal legislation to address overt and covert age discrimination.
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Marchiondo LA, Gonzales E, Williams LJ. Trajectories of perceived workplace age discrimination and long-term associations with mental, self-rated, and occupational health. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B; (2019); Apr 12.