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Older women are less protected by age discrimination laws than older men

A study found that treatment at work isn’t equal for these workers

Photo (c) skynesher - Getty Images
Age discrimination is still as prevalent as ever in the workplace, and a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Buffalo explored how much protection older men and women have at work. 

According to the researchers, age discrimination laws, which are designed to protect both men and women in the workplace, are more skewed to protect older men than their female counterparts. 

“Age discrimination laws may be ineffective or less effective for older women,” said researcher Joanne Song McLaughlin, PhD. “These women are falling through the cracks.” 

The gender disparity

To better understand how these laws protect -- or fail to protect -- older workers, Dr. McLaughlin studied two specific laws that pertain to cases around discrimination: the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. 

She explained that the biggest issue is that the laws protect against different things: ADEA is focused on age-related discrimination while Title VII focuses on cases of gender discrimination. This becomes problematic because the two laws are consistently being forced apart; consumers can fight against either age or gender, but when it comes to both, the laws can’t be combined. 

Dr. McLaughlin set out to discover how these laws come into practice in the real world and what implications they have for older people, especially when it comes to looking for work. 

“The evidence indicated that both state age discrimination laws and the ADEA improved the labor market outcomes for older men, but had a far less favorable effect on older women,” McLaughlin said. “In some cases, I found that age discrimination laws did not improve the labor market outcomes for older women at all.” 

Broadening the hiring pool

While Dr. McLaughlin ultimately believes that the laws in place need to be reworked to include older women’s specific struggles, she also suggests that employers should reconsider their traditional hiring practices. 

If older women want to stay in the workforce, she believes it could be to the benefit of many, especially as the general population continues to age. 

“We expect to see a continued decline in the ratio of workers to retired individuals in the near future as the population ages,” said Dr. McLaughlin. “This increase in dependency ratio poses a serious Social Security solvency issue. Employing older women who want to continue working is one way to influence that ratio.” 

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