James W. Grosch, Ph.D., NIOSH/CDC; Gretchen A. Petery, Ph.D., NIOSH/CDC; R. Michael Barker, Ph.D., NIOSH/CDC

This study presents an analysis of data from a national survey in the United States in which worker-reported age discrimination was measured every four years over a period of 16 years, or between 2002 and 2018.

As the workforce in the United States and other countries continues to age, interest has grown regarding the prevalence and possible impact of age bias in the workplace (e.g., Chang et al., 2020; Finkelstein & Farrell, 2007; Petery et al., 2020; Truxillo et al., 2017). Although not as widely studied as gender or race bias, age bias takes many forms, including development of age-based attitudes and stereotypes, subtle differences in how workers are evaluated, and actual discriminatory practices. In the United States, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects workers 40 years and older from workplace age discrimination, although some states have extended this protection to all age groups (Sterns et al., 2005). Despite current legislation, more national data are needed regarding the prevalence of age discrimination in the workplace and its association with worker health, safety, and well-being.

Data came from the General Social Survey (GSS) which has been conducted regularly in the United States since 1972 by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. The GSS collects data on a wide variety of topics, including work and health, provides a representative cross-section sample of the U.S. population (Smith, Marsden, & Hout, 2014). In the 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018 waves of the GSS, a Quality of Work Life (QWL) module was added to further assess psychosocial working conditions (e.g., social support, job demands) and worker health and well-being (e.g., back pain, job stress). Age discrimination was assessed in each wave with the same yes/no question: “Do you feel in any way discriminated against on your job because of your age?”

Descriptive analyses focused on estimating the prevalence of self-reported age discrimination for both the pooled QWL sample (five waves combined) and for each wave analyzed separately. Additional inferential analyses focused on: (a) understanding how age discrimination varied with demographic (e.g., age, education) and organizational (e.g., size) characteristics, and (b) examining the association between self-reported age discrimination and other quality of work life measures (e.g., job stress). A total of 7,243 respondents participated across the five waves of the QWL.

For the pooled sample, the overall prevalence of self-reported age discrimination was 8.0%. Across the five waves, age discrimination showed a small but non-significant (p = .052) downward trend, from a high of 8.7% in 2002 to a low of 6.2% in 2014 (p < .01), followed by an increase to 7.9% in 2018. Additional analyses found that age discrimination displayed a significant (p < .001) ?U-shaped? relationship with a worker’s age. The highest prevalence rates were for younger workers (e.g., 18.2% for workers 18-24), followed by older workers (e.g., 10.9% for workers 60-64). Middle-age workers had the lowest rates (e.g., 2.6% for workers 40-44). Age discrimination was not significantly associated with gender, education, number of employees, or working in the public sector. However, the data revealed a significant association with race/ethnicity (Latino workers had the highest rate, p < .01), and occupation (respondents in blue collar jobs reported the highest rates of age discrimination). In terms of other variables in the QWL, logistic multiple regression, controlling for demographic variables, found significant associations in the expected direction between age discrimination and physical health (e.g., injury at work, self-rated health, back pain), mental health (burnout, mental health days), and several psychosocial working conditions (e.g., supervisor support, job satisfaction, perceptions of fairness, job security, all p < .05). For some of these variables (e.g., back pain, self-rated health), a small but significant interaction effect was present, such that the association with age discrimination was stronger for older workers (55+ years), as compared to younger age groups.

These findings will be discussed in terms of how they compare with other studies of age bias at work (some which report higher percentages of bias), as well as methodological issues involved in measuring age discrimination with a single global item in a large cross-sectional survey such as the GSS. Additional analyses with the QWL data, currently underway, are examining the role that specific working conditions (e.g., social support, job demands, autonomy) play in the association between age discrimination and worker health/well-being. Findings from this analysis (which will also be presented in this poster), should have implications for prevention /management efforts when it comes to reducing the adverse impact of workplace age discrimination.

Analysis of GSS Data indicated that the prevalence of age discrimination in U.S. workplaces remained fairly stable between 2002 and 2018, with evidence of a slight downward trend. Age discrimination at work was associated with several individual (e.g., age, race) and quality of work life (e.g., backpain, job satisfaction) measures.

Note: The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tags: Aging Workforce, Applicable to all occupations/industries, Basic research, Discrimination and Harassment, Diversity and Inclusion in a Changing Workforce, Empirical study, Individual Factors / Differences, Job and Task Design, Organization- and Job-Level Environments and Practices, Secondary or archival analysis, Social and Organizational Environment, Surveillance, Workplace Diversity and Health Disparities, Workplace Mistreatment; Threats; and Violence