Age stereotypes can strongly affect people’s choices about who to hire, new research from psychologists at the University of Kent has shown.
If one of two equally well qualified job candidates is described as having stereotypically ‘young’ characteristics, and the other has stereotypically ‘old’ characteristics, the ‘younger’ candidate is more likely to be selected.
The research team, led by Professor Dominic Abrams of the University’s School of Psychology, conducted a series of experiments in which people were asked to imagine they were running a firm and then to select the candidate who would help them to maximise their profits.
Participants were told about two equally qualified job candidates, whose strengths had been rated as equal by an independent set of judges, but whose age was not given.
One candidate was described as having strengths that matched the ‘younger’ stereotype — being good at using IT, creative, good at learning new skills. The other candidate was described as having strengths that matched the ‘old’ stereotype – being good at understanding others’ views, settling arguments, and being careful.
The researchers found that participants consistently favoured the young profile. In fact, regardless of whether the job was for a long or short term, and whether it was for a supervisor or supervisee role, over 70% of participants preferred the young profile. Things only evened when participants were told that both candidates would be working for them but that they had to choose which should be the subordinate. In that case, 50% chose the ‘old’ profile to be subordinate.
The findings show that people’s unacknowledged assumptions about age and age-related capability can affect the way they view someone’s employability. If these assumptions affect employers’ judgements, it has serious implications for the fair chances of older workers to gain employment in new roles or workplaces.
The study was published in the Journal of Social Issues.