Newsletter: Opinion: Older, female and looking for a job? Your chances aren’t good

Pittsburgh job fair

Companies speak with job seekers at a job fair in Pittsburgh on March 30.

(Keith Srakocic / Associated Press)

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and it is Saturday, April 30, 2016. Two hundred and twenty seven years ago today, George Washington became the first president of the United States. We've come a long way, right?

Speaking of presidents, regular readers of this newsletter probably expect to find in this space an introduction to an opinion piece on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or some other character from the protracted presidential primary. But this week, I've decided to spare faithful subscribers a lengthy excerpt on the even lengthier campaign in favor of commentary on a topic sure to perk up your Saturday morning: the daunting prospects faced by older women looking for a job.

In one of this week's most-read Times opinion pieces, UC Irvine economist David Neumark describes an experiment he used to test the job market for discrimination against women and older workers. The results are not encouraging:

What about older workers? Do employers likewise pass them over when they are equally qualified? The answer is critical to Social Security or any other reforms to public pensions that rely on keeping older workers on the job.

To find out the answer, two colleagues and I modified the basic design of those earlier employment experiments to examine age discrimination. We created realistic but fictitious resumes for young (30s), middle-aged (50s) and older (around 65) job applicants. We specifically crafted variations on resumes that older workers present, including one that showed the common path of moving to a lower-skill job later in life (think, somewhat stereotypically, of store greeters at Walmart).

Then we submitted these resumes in response to ads for job categories that employ large numbers of fairly low-skilled workers of all ages. The jobs included administrative assistants and secretaries (to which we sent female applicants), janitors and security guards (male applicants) and retail sales (both genders).

Overall, the response was encouraging for our youngest group: Depending on the job, between 14% and 32% of applications resulted in a callback for an interview. However, older workers received far fewer callbacks. For example, among 65-year-olds seeking administrative jobs, the callback rate was about half that of younger applicants — 7.6% versus 14.4%. Middle-aged applicants, too, received fewer callbacks.

Women faced worse age discrimination than men. Comparing results by gender in retail sales, we found a sharper drop-off in callback rates for older women than for older men. And for the janitor and security jobs to which we submitted applications only from men, the pattern of lower callback rates for older applicants was less clear than for women applying for administrative or retail jobs.

Why might older women suffer relatively more from age discrimination? In general, research indicates that physical attractiveness boosts hiring. Moreover, related research suggests that there is an “attractiveness penalty” for age, which is more severe for women than for men.

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Companies interested in surviving might want to hire more older workers, according to a gerontology researcher. Reacting to Neumark's research, Paul Irving of Santa Monica, who chairs the Milken Institute's Center for the Future of Aging, writes that a workplace composed of older and younger workers bolsters the bottom line: "Research and practice show that older workers represent a powerful human capital resource. Older workers offer experience, balance, judgment and greater loyalty than other age cohorts. They're effective at conflict resolution and can bring strong customer and client relationship skills." L.A. Times

Americans deserve to know the full truth about Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 attacks. Andrew J. Bacevich writes that the federal government should stop "protecting" the American public from potentially explosive and revelatory details about what happened in New York and Washington nearly 15 years ago: "Why not allow Americans to judge for themselves? Why not make available those thousands of relevant pages? The answer is self-evident: Because in the estimation of those such as [9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow], ordinary citizens are not to be trusted in such matters; policy must remain the purview of those who possess suitable credentials and can therefore be counted on to not rock the boat. But the boat needs rocking." L.A. Times

'Game of Thrones' is a waste of times, says an academic. No it isn't, retort the Thronies. Jeffrey Sconce, a film and media studies professor at Northwestern University, pens an amusing takedown of the HBO mega-hit fantasy series, calling it a collision of "'Ivanhoe,' the War of the Roses, and those skin flicks that play on Cinemax after midnight." Predictably, fans of the show aren't amused. In a letter to the editor, a reader calls Sconce an "over-educated troll."

Arch-conservative Ted Cruz picks Carly Fiorina to be his running mate, showing no signs of moderating himself. Jon Healey notes that a party nominee (which Cruz isn't) typically balances out his or her ticket politically with the VP pick. Not so this time: "He picked a female version of Ted Cruz — someone who condemns the political establishment as corrupt, who belittles the idea of finding a political middle ground and who argues that the path to victory for the GOP is to pick more conservative candidates. Yes, Fiorina does bring an extra X chromosome to the ticket, and that's significant even if it has been done before. But given Fiorina's stance on reproductive rights (she's strongly pro-life) and how closely her views hew to Cruz's, it's hard to see how she'll help him in November." L.A. Times

You don't have to be an LGBT person to suffer under Mississippi's anti-gay law. Nico Lang notes that although the new and already notorious statute effectively singles out lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for ill treatment, House Bill 1523 allows for discrimination against any group that might offend the religious. Lang writes: "HB 1523 allows businesses to discriminate based on their moral convictions that 'marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman' and 'sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.' Thus, the bill could be used to target unwed mothers and cohabitating couples, even heterosexual ones. Let's say Johnny and Mary are engaged and in the market for a one-bedroom apartment. If the landlord discovers that they are engaging in intercourse before marriage, he can decline their application." L.A. Times

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