Discrimination in the hiring of older jobseekers: Combining a survey experiment with a natural experiment in Switzerland

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This paper looks at different explanations for why older jobseekers may struggle to find a new job if they are out of work, and concludes that this group is at a significant disadvantage when compared to younger workers with similar qualifications.

The researchers tested three theories: that employers may prefer to recruit internally; that older workers are seen as being too expensive; and that employers prefer younger workers for physically demanding jobs. They used two methods – a survey of 500 recruiters in which respondents were asked to read fictional CVs and indicate whether the applicants would be invited for interview; and a study of 1200 Swiss workers whose plant had closed down two years earlier.

The studies found blue collar workers and those in lower-status office jobs had more difficulty than higher-level white-collar workers, casting doubt on the theory that internal promotion was the main cause of the problem.
However, there was evidence that higher wage costs for older workers caused them to lose out when competing for jobs against younger applicants.
The last hypothesis, that employers want younger workers for physically demanding jobs, was partly borne out by the finding that blue collar workers face a greater disadvantage than high-skilled white collar workers, but this did not explain why low-skilled office workers also lost out to younger applicants.

The researchers conclude that decisions by human resource departments are not based entirely on rational considerations – workers in their mid-50s have ten years of working life and potentially a great deal to contribute before retirement. Government initiatives urging older workers to work longer may ring hollow with this group while such discrimination continues, they say.