Understanding Workplace Ageism

Posted on by Gretchen A. Petery, PhD, MA

Ageism is a significant problem in our society, including the workplace. [1] Ageist views are commonly accepted and perpetuated through multiple channels, especially the media. However, population aging is a hallmark of the 21st century, and one that effects nearly all nations and all aspects of society. [2] The average age of the labor force has steadily increased, from 39 years in 1990 to a projected 42.6 years in 2029. At the same time, the labor force is also becoming more age diverse, which may fuel workplace ageism. [3]

Ageism, like attitudinal other -isms, has three interconnected components: [4]

  • Stereotypes: the beliefs and expectations we have about individuals in different age groups
  • Prejudice: the positive or negative feelings we have about those individuals
  • Discrimination: how we behavior towards those individuals

Age stereotypes are a driving force of ageism. Although age stereotypes exist for younger and middle-aged workers, research for these other age groups is not as common or abundant as it is for older workers. [5] Stereotypes about older workers have endured for decades, dating back to at least the 1950s. [6]

Meta analyses [7,8] of hundreds of research studies provide strong empirical evidence that:

  1. Negative older worker stereotypes are largely false; and
  2. Positive older worker stereotypes are generally true.

Despite this, age stereotypes may bias beliefs about the work performance quality of people in different age groups, [9] which could result in discrimination.

A survey conducted by AARP revealed that 61% of respondents age 50 and older stated they had either experienced or witnessed workplace age discrimination. [10] Workers aged 40 and older in the United States are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, although the burden for proving employment-related age discrimination is high. Even so, there were 14,183 claims of age discrimination filed with the EEOC in 2020, and $76.3 million in damages paid out for resolved charges. [11]

Perhaps more alarming is the impact of age stereotypes and perceived age discrimination on individual health. A recent study followed more than 6,000 adults in the United States over a two-decade period and found that those who experienced age discrimination had worse physical health and mental well-being. [12] A separate analysis of data from 422 studies involving over 7 million participants throughout the world drew similar conclusions. [13] The negative mental and physical health consequences associated with ageism come with a large price tag, estimated at $63 billion over a one-year period in the United States alone. [14]

Join us Thursday, October 20th on Zoom to learn more about this issue and ways that we as workers, employers, and researchers can address ageism in the workplace.  The NIOSH National Center for Productive Aging and Work (NCPAW) together with NIOSH’s Office for Total Worker Health® and the Diversity and Inclusion Office Blueprint in Action will present a webinar, “What’s Age Got to do With it? Realities and Solutions for Workplace Ageism” on Thursday, October 20, 2021 from 12:00-1:30 pm Eastern Standard Time.

Featured speakers include:

David Cadiz, PhD, MBA, Senior Instructor, in The School of Business at Portland State University.

Becca Levy, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health and Professor of Psychology at Yale University.

Rebecca Perron, PhD, Senior Research Advisor at AARP.


For more information on aging and work visit the NIOSH National Center for Productive Aging and Work website.


Gretchen A. Petery, PhD, MA, is co-director of the National Center for Productive Aging and Work (NCPAW) and a social scientist in the NIOSH Division of Science Integration.



  1. Nelson, T. D. (2016). The age of ageism. Journal of Social Issues, 72, 191-198. doi: 10.1111/josi.12162
  2. Bloom, D. E., & Luca, D. L. (2016). The global demography of aging: Facts, explanations, future. IZA Discussion Papers, No. 10163. Bonn, Switzerland: Institute for the Study of Labor.
  3. Cadiz, D. M., Pytlovany, A. C., & Truxillo, D. M. (2017). Ageism in the workplace. Oxford research encyclopedia of psychology. https://doi.org/10/1093.acrefore/9780190236557.013.2
  4. Fiske, S. T. (2018). Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. In. D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., Vol. 2, pp. 357-393). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
  5. Truxillo, D. M., Finkelstein, L. M., Pytlovany, A. C., & Jenkins, J. S. (2018). Age discrimination at work: A review of the research and recommendations for the future. In J. Colella & E. B. King (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of workplace discrimination (pp. 129-142). New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. Tuckman, J., & Lorge, I. (1952). Attitudes toward older workers. Journal of Applied Psychology, 36, 149-153.
  7. Ng, T. W. H., & Feldman, D. C. (2012). Evaluating six common stereotypes about older workers with meta analytical data. Personnel Psychology, 65, 821-858. doi: 10.1111/peps.12003
  8. Posthuma, R. A., & Campion, M. A. (2009). Age stereotypes in the workplace: Common stereotypes, moderators, and future research directions. Journal of Management, 35, 158-188. doi: 10.1177/0149206308318617
  9. Petery, G. A., Wee, S., Dunlop, P. D., & Parker, S. K. (2020). Older workers and poor performance: Examining the association of age stereotypes with expected work performance quality. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 28, 510-521.
  10. Perron, R. (2018). The value of experience: Age discrimination against older workers persists. AARP Research. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00177.002
  11. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (n.d.). Age Discrimination in Employment Act (Charges filed with EEOC) (includes concurrent charges with Title VII, ADA, EPA, and GINA) FY 1997 – FY 2020. https://www.eeoc.gov/statistics/age-discrimination-employment-act-charges-filed-eeoc-includes-concurrent-charges-title
  12. Stokes, J. E., & Moorman, S. M. (2020). Sticks and stones: Perceived age discrimination, well-being, and health over a 20-year period. Research on Aging, 42, 115-125.
  13. Chang, E.-S., Kannoth, S., Levy, S., Wang, S.-Y., Lee, J. E., & Levy, B. R. (2020). Global reach of ageism on older persons’ health: A systematic review. PLoS One, 15, e0220857. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0220857.
  14. Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., Chang, E.-S., Knnoth, S., & Wang, S.-Y. (2020). Ageism amplifies cost and prevalence of health conditions. The Geronotologist, 60, 174-181.doi: 10.1093/geront/gny131.
Posted on by Gretchen A. Petery, PhD, MA

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Page last reviewed: February 8, 2023
Page last updated: February 8, 2023