Dozens of companies, including a number of household names, have been engaging in potentially discriminatory hiring practices by targeting their job listings on Facebook to users in specific age groups, according to a joint investigation by ProPublica and the New York Times published on Wednesday. The report, along with a new lawsuit challenging the legality of this type of targeting, is sure to reignite the public debate over age discrimination in hiring and may put more pressure on employers in that regard.
Reviewing data collected as part of a separate investigation into political advertising on Facebook, ProPublica reporters Julia Angwin and Ariana Tobin and the Times‘ Noam Scheiber noticed that Verizon, for example, had bought Facebook job ads targeted to users 25 to 36 years old, while UPS ran an ad targeting ages 18 to 24 and State Farm was advertising to Facebook users from 19 to 35 years old. While the ability to reach very specific audiences is one of Facebook’s main differentiators in the advertising market, these findings are raising questions as to whether targeting candidates by parameters such as age could be considered discriminatory under US law.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 makes it illegal to exhibit bias against people over 40 years old and to even be an accomplice to age discrimination, which may be the case for Facebook in these circumstances. Also on Wednesday, the Communications Workers of America filed a class-action complaint in a federal court in San Francisco on behalf of its members and all other Facebook users over 40 who did not get the opportunity to view these job listings, with the CWA’s attorney calling it “illegal and immoral to exclude older workers from receiving a company’s job ads.” Whether the court accepts this lawsuit remains to be seen, but it won’t be the only one.
When confronted with the possibly discriminatory nature of placing such ads, some companies have chosen to make changes to their job marketing strategy. Others, however, defend the practice, arguing that it is similar to placing ads in print publications that reach different age demographics, such as the AARP magazine or Teen Vogue. Some believe it is appropriate to target by age if the ad is for an entry-level job, or insist that these Facebook ads are part of a comprehensive strategy for recruiting candidates of all ages.
In recent years, surveys have shown an increasing number of Americans working (or expecting to work) later into their lives than past generations did—particularly women. This trend is partly driven by financial need, as US workers struggle to save enough for a retirement that can cost over $700,000, and partly by older people expecting to live longer than their parents did and wanting to remain at work for more of those years.
Some Americans, on the other hand, are officially retired, but after a few years (or less), get bored with the easy life and either actively or passively become candidates again. Bruce Horovitz at Kaiser Health News takes a look at why we’re seeing more of these “un-retirees”:
This “un-retirement” trend continues to build, according to a 2017 Rand Corp. study showing that 39 percent of Americans 65 and older who are currently employed had previously retired. And more than half of those 50 and older who are not working and not searching for work said they would work if the “right opportunity came along,” the study found.
“We have a mistaken image of life, that you go to school, work for 40 years, then say goodbye to colleagues for the last time and embrace the leisure life,” said Chris Farrell, author of “Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community and the Good Life.” “That’s not turning out to be the arc of most people’s lives.”
The latest American Working Conditions Survey from the RAND Corporation highlights the finding that most US retirees would take advantage of an opportunity to return to work, and that retirement-age employees opt to remain in the workforce not so much because they can’t afford to retire, but because they enjoy working—especially as they report having more meaningful work and more flexibility in their jobs than their younger co-workers. Steve Vernon explores the study’s findings at CBS Moneywatch:
The AWCS found that more than two-thirds of older men and women reported satisfaction with work well done and felt they were doing useful work. Prime-age women reported about the same level of satisfaction, but only a little more than half of prime-age men reported these same levels of satisfaction.
Older workers are also more likely than prime-age workers to say they apply their own ideas and solve unforeseen problems, and they’re less likely to report that they perform monotonous tasks. Older workers are also more likely to report workplace flexibility than their younger peers. College graduates in particular are more than twice as likely to determine their own work schedules as their younger counterparts are.
Older workers do also have practical rationales for delaying retirement, the survey found: Doing so allows them to delay when they start collecting Social Security benefits, which increases their expected lifetime payout. Older workers may also choose to stay at work for the health insurance benefits they receive from their employer, which reduce their out-of-pocket health care costs (the largest expense for retirees), or to participate in workplace wellness programs that help keep them in good health.
Recent surveys of the US workforce show that more Americans are working or planning to work past the conventional retirement age of 65, driven by a mix of increasing life expectancy, a preference for work over retirement, and financial concerns about their ability to retire comfortably. Looking at data from the latest US jobs report, Bloomberg’s Ben Steverman observes that the upward trend in older workers is holding steady, with almost 19 percent of people 65 or older working at least part-time in the second quarter of 2017:
The age group’s employment/population ratio hasn’t been higher in 55 years, before American retirees won better health care and Social Security benefits starting in the late 1960s. … Certainly baby boomers are increasingly ignoring the traditional retirement age of 65. Last quarter, 32 percent of Americans 65 to 69 were employed. Even past age 70, a growing number of seniors are declining to, or unable to, retire. Last quarter, 19 percent of 70- to 74-year-olds were working, up from 11 percent in 1994.
Older Americans are working more even as those under 65 are working less, a trend that the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to continue. By 2024, 36 percent of 65- to 69-year-olds will be active participants in the labor market, the BLS says. That’s up from just 22 percent in 1994.
The trends look strikingly different for men and women, however. While workforce participation is on the rise among older Americans of both genders, Preeti Varathan remarks at Quartz, men over 65 are still working at much lower rates than they were half a century ago, while older women’s participation is reaching record highs:
SHRM’s Dana Wilkie passes along a new survey showing that Americans between 55 and 65 are “hopping” from job to job nearly as frequently as millennials:
The survey from Namely—HR Mythbusters 2017—found that the median tenure at a job for workers between ages 25 to 35 was 1.42 years; the median tenure for those between ages 35 to 55 was just under two years; and for those between ages 55 to 65, it was 2.53 years. …
The findings reveal that “HR teams are up against a trend of shortening tenures,” the survey authors wrote. “For those that have focused primarily on retaining Millennial employees, it’s time to broaden perspective. Companies should consider what retention incentives they can offer employees at all stages.” For instance, flexible work options may appeal not just to Millennials, but to older workers.
The stereotype of millennials as uniquely flighty and disloyal is rooted more in myth than fact: In fact, a study released in April showed that millennials were no more likely to job-hop than members of Generation X were at the same point in their careers.
McDonald’s made headlines last week when it revealed that it would be accepting job applications this summer through Snapchat, in an effort to attract more candidates in its key age demographic of 16- to 24-year-olds. Recruiting through social media is a promising tool for companies looking to put job opportunities before the eyes of younger millennials and Generation Z, as that is where most of their media attention is focused—not TV, newspapers, or job boards.
Another millennial-targeted innovation in recruiting is gamification, where candidates prove their skills and compete for jobs through online platforms and mobile apps where they solve puzzles or participate in simulations that demonstrate their ability to do the work. The latest example of an employer gamifying their hiring process is Jaguar Land Rover, Amie Tsang reported for the New York Times this week:
The carmaker announced on Monday that it would be recruiting 5,000 people this year, including 1,000 electronics and software engineers. The catch? It wants potential employees to download an app with a series of puzzles that it says will test for the engineering skills it hopes to bring in. While traditional applicants will still be considered, people who successfully complete the app’s puzzles will “fast-track their way into employment,” said Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Tata Motors of India.
All of these new, tech-savvy approaches to recruiting are deliberately meant to appeal to a younger crowd, but not every applicant is a Snapchatting millennial raised on video games, Steve Boese points out in his take on McDonald’s “snaplications,” and employers who rely too heavily on these novel techniques might find that it has an unexpected and potentially unwelcome impact on age diversity in their organization:
FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics co-authored a study on the state of telecommuting in the US, with the following key findings:
- 3.9 million U.S. employees, or 2.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million in 2005 (a 115 percent increase since 2005).
- The average telecommuter is 46 years of age or older, has at least a bachelor’s degree, and earns a higher median salary than an in-office worker.
- Roughly the same population of women and men telecommute.
- Telecommuting is more common among employees over 35 years of age and most common among Baby Boomers.
- In more than half of the top U.S. metro areas telecommuting exceeds public transportation as the commute option of choice. It has grown far faster than any other commute mode.
Kathryn Vasel of CNN digs deeper into the study, which also identifies the industries, professions, and geographic areas in which telecommuting is most popular: