Many workers describe bias toward their age as a sense of being thrown into the garbage, of transforming into the ghost in a group when they try to add a new idea, or at the peak of skill and passion when their contribution is no longer considered worthy of placing on the table.
Or further, a nonproductive thing.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes data for the median, or midpoint, age of various occupations. The data may underline what working people are saying in online articles, comment sections, and Quora discussions.
Tech journalist Dan Lyons was enjoying a successful career at Forbes, and then at Newsweek — however he was laid off in 2012. He went to work for HubSpot, a startup with headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. Lyons had been there a few months when he began to sense that things were not working out as well as they should, but couldn’t put his finger on why.
“One day the CEO gave an interview in The Times — which for a little company like that is a big deal — and in it he said ‘Well, we’re trying to build a culture specifically to attract and retain gen wires you know ‘cause in tech things move so fast and gray hair and experience, they are really overrated, really you know no value there,’” said Lyons in a talk at Google posted on YouTube. “And I, I kind of gasped, right, like I kind of was like ‘seriously?’ because I first thought like ‘A’ do people really believe that?”
The “B” part was Lyons’ surprise that this kind of bias was acceptable to say out loud to the press.
He thought about how his sister-in-law is a surgeon using very complex machinery, such as the da Vinci® Surgical System — many surgeons only begin their careers at 40 after the many years of training that prepares them. Also, in the law and other fields, people keep up well as they grow in skills and experience. There was a different attitude toward experience at the tech startup where he worked.
“People look at you like, like you’re a ghost,” he said.
While working at the startup, during a professional conference, he received a call from HBO and was recruited to write for the show “Silicon Valley.” Lyons has written for the show for two seasons so far, he said in the Google talk.
Lyons also wrote the New York Times bestseller “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble.” He now speaks and advocates for a functional, multi-generational workforce.
“I think people of all ages are capable of doing great things,” Lyons said.
Tech positions that may face less age bias — because they are recommended for older workers — include quality assurance specialist, technical support specialist, and technical writer, wrote Kerry Hannon on AARP.com. The BLS posts that the median age for technical writers is close to 49 years of age, at 48.7.
For those seeking a job as a technical writer, the Society for Technical Communication and the American Medical Writers Association both offer education courses or certifications. Some employers may also provide on-the-job training.
The tender age of tending bar
For bartenders, the BLS lists the median age as 31-and-a-half.
“At the age of 64, Jane (name changed to protect interviewee) had worked as a bartender at a neighborhood bar for more than a decade,” wrote Lauren Stiller Rikleen in a Harvard Business Review article. “The bar was being sold, however, and the buyers told Jane that she was too old to be a bartender, disparaging her age and gender in front of other employees and customers before the sale was finalized. They did not keep her on, and instead hired significantly younger women.”
Would Jane have had a better chance of staying employed if she served drinks in the air? The BLS lists the median age of flight attendants at more than 49 years of age in 2016, almost 18 years older than a land-locked bartender.
Angela Rose wrote on Hospitality Careers that bartenders develop extensive people skills, memorize hundreds of cocktail recipes, and manage the organization and stocking of the bar. Former bartenders are qualified for other jobs in the hospitality industry, she wrote, such as a brand sales representative who works for breweries, wineries or distilleries, making sure orders are filled, communicating promotions, and demonstrating or training bar and restaurant staff.
Other interesting occupations in the hospitality industry for former bartenders include working as a cocktail caterer, providing service at corporate events, weddings and other special occasions. Another possible position is wine and spirits merchandiser for a liquor distributor, communicating with retail store owners, managing the way products are displayed and stocked, and checking product dates, rotating stock if needed.
In these types of jobs, employers are looking for those with excellent communication skills and liquor industry experience, Rose added.
A marketing career, and an entirely new occupation
Dave Lundin was 58 when he was pushed out of his marketing career at General Motors after 26 years, he said in an article by Carole Fleck on AARP.org.
“Lundin says he was told by the company his skills were no longer needed,” she wrote. “(He said) ‘I didn’t want to retire. I couldn’t afford to retire. I was walking by a dumpster and I thought I might as well throw myself inside. They just trashed me.’”
He applied to many marketing jobs and didn’t receive an interview. Lundin returned to college for a second master’s degree in counseling.
“One year ago, Lundin landed a full-time job with a clinic, where he earns $40,000,” Fleck wrote. “(He said) ‘I have to keep working. I chose psychotherapy because you can work for as long as you can get clients. It’s one area where age is valued.’”
The BLS posts that in 2016, the median age for psychologists was slightly more than 48 years of age, 48.3. Conversely, the median age for market research analysts and marketing specialists is 37, and for marketing managers 42-and-a-half.
Jobs in health care, one in four new jobs during 2014–2024
The number of jobs in the field of health care is greatly expanding.
“Health care support occupations and health care practitioners and technical occupations are projected to be the two fastest growing occupational groups during the 2014 to 2024 projections decade,” wrote the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in December 2015. “These groups are projected to contribute the most new jobs, with a combined increase of 2.3 million in employment, representing about one in four new jobs.”
Even with this increasing need for health care workers, some have experienced age bias.
In the comments section following a 2016 article by Hannon, “Five Great Jobs in Health Care,” a former nurse wrote about trying to re-enter the field — she still wanted to be involved, inspired by her passion for patient care.
“As a recently retired nurse of 36 years and far more experience prior to my degree, I have been basically shunned by the health care system,” the commenter wrote. “I interview and (am) told that I was not considered because they found someone with more experience than me. Frankly I am interviewing with people in their 30s and 40s and am a product of ‘ageism,’ my word for too old to be considered. I can run rings around these folks but the truth is they can’t show their hand and disclose because of my age they are not even considering me.”
A response to her comment by Rondtroy presented a unique suggestion.
“I have applied for numerous positions in a regional health care giant and was told that they could not even interview me because I did not currently work in health care or, in my case, Health IT, even when the jobs had no real need for such a background — I’m a long time Financial IT professional,” Rondtroy wrote. “Very frustrating. In your case, if you would be interested in working in Health IT, many of the positions assume little IT knowledge but demand clinical experience; it might be worth looking into this.”
Other health care occupations Hannon recommends in her article include the following:
- Massage therapist for older people
- Medical biller and coder
- Medical interpreter
- Telemetry technician
Teaching or substitute teaching
Commenters to articles often recommend teaching. In the comments sections following two of Hannon’s pieces, workers say that teaching is a viable option for many job-seekers.
Following the article, “Five Great Tech Jobs for the 50 plus,” a 64-year-old commenter who holds two associate degrees and a bachelor’s degree wrote that while working at a temp job, a remark was made about the commenter’s age shortly before being let go.
A reply to this comment recommended part-time teaching.
“With five years of work experience (one year recent) you can get a vocational teaching credential in California,” the replying commenter wrote. “You don’t say what your experience is in, but right now the adult school I work at is looking to hire a teacher for electrician classes.”
In a related article by Hannon, another writer shared a good experience with VIPKID.
“I have been with the company for a year now and it’s so rewarding teaching English to students in China,” the commenter wrote. “You are able to make between $14 and $22 an hour as well as set your own work schedule. This job affords you the opportunity to earn extra income from the comfort of your own home.”
A subsequent writer responded that substitute teaching is challenging, but offers a flexible schedule.
“It is not for the faint of heart,” wrote the commenter. “After two academic years I have sorted out the schools and classes I will accept assignments for. I won’t go into why it’s not an easy job but it isn’t. On the other hand, I took this route because of the flexibility. I am in complete control over my schedule. That is important to me because my husband is disabled and does not drive. I can schedule my assignments around his needs. If you need flexibility, you might want to look into substitute teaching.”
Another commenter agreed.
“Do research on local needs,” the subsequent commenter wrote. “In my city the school system is desperate for substitute teachers. All that is required is a BA/BS in anything. The choice of days worked, school choice and grade choice are in my control. I love the work and the freedom.”
Music, personal care and service occupations
In a listing of median age by industry, the BLS lists the midpoint age of “Independent artists, performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries” is close to 42, at 41.8.
“Yes, ageism is very real,” wrote Collette Mclafferty on Quora. “It runs rampant in my industry, which is (the) music industry. As a 42-year-old woman, it blows my mind when people think that telling me I am too old for my job is actually an acceptable thing. As if the job I have been doing for almost three decades now can no longer be mine because of my birthday. Ageism happens in many industries. I recently had my hair done by a stylist who said she had to lie about her age because salons told her that she was starting out too old.”
The BLS lists in its age by occupation data chart that the median age for “Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists” is 40-and-a-half. In the same category — personal care and service occupations — the median age for “personal care aides” is higher at slightly over age 45 (45.3), and that may indicate there are less people who leave or are outwardly nudged out of this occupation.
The BLS reports that age discrimination is worse for older women than for mature men.
“Women — especially older women, but even those of middle age — experience more age discrimination in hiring than men do,” wrote Edith S. Baker in a BLS analysis of a 2016 Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco study.
Additional data posted by the BLS
In occupational categories posted by the BLS, a few interesting data points stand out, including the median ages for the following jobs:
- 21.3 for lifeguards and other recreational, and protective service workers
- 21.5 for hosts and hostesses in restaurants, lounges and coffee shops
- 25.7 for food preparation and serving workers, including fast food
- 26.2 for waiters and waitresses
- 31 for tellers
- 31 for hotel, motel, and resort desk clerks
- 31.9 for athletes, coaches, umpires and related workers
- 33 for emergency medical technicians and paramedics
- 40s for many and most jobs
- 48.2 for taxi drivers and chauffeurs, and for bus drivers 53.1
- 48.7 for postal service mail carriers, and for postal clerks 52.5
- 49.2 for secretaries and administrative assistants
- 49.4 for bookkeepers, accounting and auditing clerks
- 49.8 for property, real estate, and community association managers
- 50.2 for travel agents
- 50.7 for real estate brokers and sales agents
- 51.4 for tax preparers
- 54.1 for tailors, dressmakers, and sewers
Specific companies and workplaces
In some cases, the intergenerational workplace environment may be more about the particular company culture where a person is working, or the direct manager of the worker.
The Journal of Organizational Behavior found workers with younger managers felt more anger and fear than those with managers older than they are, Hannon wrote on Forbes.com.
In this situation, she advises employees with younger managers to:
- Soul search whether it’s an ego issue about wanting to lead
- Practice empathy and mutual respect for the younger boss
- Become more physically fit to increase energy and a “can-do” attitude
- Open up lines of communication between worker and manager
- Look at the bright side of working with someone possessing a fresh set of eyes
- Keep building a network of friends and professional contacts
Career-seekers may access a number of resources that post employee reviews on workplace culture experienced at hundreds of companies. One such site is Glassdoor, Inc. Also, AARP maintains a comprehensive list of companies that have signed a pledge stating they believe in equal opportunities for workers of all ages.
Dan Kadlec wrote about age-friendly companies in an article on Time.com/money. One of these large employers is the global bank Barclays — the bank has expanded the age range of its apprenticeship program.
“Already Barclays has a team of tech-savvy older workers in place to help mature customers with online banking,” Kadlec wrote. “The new apprenticeship program builds on this effort to capitalize on the life skills of experienced workers.”
Goldman Sachs has started a “returnship” program, and other companies that have started age-friendly employment or internship projects include the following:
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Stanley Consultants, Inc.
- Michelin North America, Inc.
- PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)
- Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
- Harvard Business School
- Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, MetLife
- McKinsey & Company
Kadlec also recommends a list of employers on irelaunch.com.
“The nonprofit Encore.org offers mature workers a one-year fellowship, typically in a professional capacity at another nonprofit, to help mature workers re-enter the job market,” he wrote.
The future includes more generational blending
Chris Farrell wrote on Forbes that while biases of other types are now unacceptable in American workplace culture, bias according to age is still a common problem, even if it is illegal. Age discrimination is the last frontier of eliminating bias at work.
“Instead of weighing down the economy in coming decades (the conventional wisdom), engaged older Americans will add to its dynamism and creativity,” Farrell wrote.
In addition to simply working together, an appreciation of all age groups of workers will strengthen the American workplace.
“Think of modern mentoring as more of a two-way street, with generations learning from each other rather than the younger sitting at the feet of the older,” wrote Meghan M. Biro in an article on Huffington Post.
Paul Irving is Chairman of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging, and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School. He expressed optimism in an interview with Kerry Hannon for an article posted on Forbes.com.
“Leaders in business are beginning to appreciate that older workers retain unique values, skills, wisdom and judgment and are recognizing, frankly, that the intergenerational teams and workforces may be the most powerful workforces of the future,” Irving said.
“At 90, She’s Designing Tech For Aging Boomers,” interview with Barbara Beskind, IDEO. Story by Laura Sydell on All Things Considered, NPR.