A Pandemic Silver Lining: Age Discrimination Has Fallen in 2021

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The past year of work has been different, for obvious reasons. While our organizations have faced their share of new challenges — and even achieved new successes — some longstanding issues remain. That includes age discrimination.

However, there is some good news to be found in all of this. According to new research we conducted at SeniorLiving.org, the number of workers reporting age discrimination dropped to 15 percent in 2021, compared to 20 percent in 2020.

Our annual research into age discrimination in the workplace surveyed 1,380 people ages 40 and older regarding their workforce participation, employment backgrounds, personal experiences with age-based workplace discrimination, and job changes spurred by the pandemic. Here’s what we found::

Drop in Discrimination

Perceived discrimination dropped for all workers 40 and older over the past year, although workers over the age of 60 remain the most likely to face age discrimination: 19 percent of workers aged 61+ report experiencing discrimination in 2021. That’s still an improvement over 2020, when 24 percent of workers over 60 reported discrimination.

Remote Work Makes a Difference

One of the key drivers behind the drop in discrimination may have been the shift to remote work. Among older employees who had previously experienced age discrimination and worked from home during the pandemic, 77 percent reported less discrimination — or no discrimination at all — while working remotely.

Discrimination Varies by Age

Age-related bias comes in many forms, and our research found that the prevalence of different types of age discrimination varies across employee age groups. For example, workers over 60 reported experiencing unjust termination at a rate 2.5 times higher than those aged 40-59, but this younger set reported three times more harassment than their older colleagues. Similarly, workers aged 40-60 experience unwanted ageist comments at a higher rate than workers 60+.


Reporting Age Discrimination

While the majority of those 40 and older are willing to report age discrimination, the older the victim, the less likely they are to notify employers.

A belief that nothing would be done in response to a complaint was the most common reason for not reporting. Sadly, workers have good reason to feel this way: More than 50 percent of respondents who reported an incident told us “nothing happened” as a result.

Company Size Matters

Employees at large companies with more than 1,000 employees were least likely to experience age discrimination. However, these workers were also least likely to report age discrimination and most likely to say nothing was done about their complaints when filed.

3 Ways to Fight Age Discrimination Today

While the data shows over improvement over a year ago, much more is needed to make significant progress in the fight against age discrimination.

Our research clearly identifies a few key steps organizations can take to more effectively combat age-based bias in their workplaces:

  1. Implement improved reporting channels backed by trusted investigations
  2. Increase education and prevention initiatives, especially at mid-sized companies with 100-999 employees
  3. More diligently prosecute reported cases, especially at larger organizations with more than 1000 employees.

Ultimately, if we want to make real inroads in ending age discrimination, all employers must commit to ending discrimination in all its forms.

Jeff Hoyt is editor-in-chief of SeniorLiving.org.

By Jeff Hoyt