A busy commercial street crowded with people

Middle-aged and older job applicants discarded by employers

Middle-aged and older people are discarded when applying for a job. The chance of being contacted by an employer when having applied for a job drops considerably already for people in their forties and job applicants who are nearing the retirement age are hardly ever contacted. This is shown in a new IFAU report.

The authors of the report sent out more than 6,000 fictitious job applications to employers who had advertised for administrators, chefs, facilities keepers, restaurant assistants, store assistants, and truckers. They then measured the response rate from the employers, for instance who were contacted for a job interview.

The authors found that middle-aged and older job applicants are discarded. The chance of being contacted by an employer drops considerably already for people in their forties, and then continues to drop with age. People nearing the retirement age have a very small chance of being contacted. A person who is ten years older has a 5% less chance of being contacted.

"There should be no doubt that employers engage in age discrimination. We have found very large effects and age is a truly negative factor in the recruitment process", says Magnus Carlsson.

"Age discrimination is greater for women than for men. We have also looked into whether there are differences between men and women concerning the likelihood of being contacted by an employer. We only found small gender differences on average, however with some variation between different professions", Carlsson continues.

Employers worried that older applicants are less flexible and less ambitious

A questionnaire survey sent to a representative selection of employers show that there are three abilities that employers consider important and which they are worried that employees older than 40 have started losing: the ability to learn new things, being adaptable and flexible, and being ambitious and full of initiative.

"It seems that employers think that employees start losing these abilities already when they are middle-aged", says Stefan Eriksson, one of the article authors.

Lower workforce participation and lower mobility among older people?

Age discrimination can have great consequences for society. Partly because Sweden is facing a demographical challenge with an ageing population that needs to work longer, and partly because age discrimination can result in a lower mobility of the workforce. If middle-aged and older people expect to be discriminated against it can result in them not looking for new job, or not finding a new job, even in cases where it would be god for them to change jobs or profession. Low mobility can in turn curb development on the labor market and slow the growth of the economy.

Field experiment – method for measuring discrimination

In order to investigate whether there is age discrimination on the Swedish labour market a so-called field experiment was carried out in 2015 and 2016. More than 6,000 job applications for fictitious applicants aged 35–70 years were sent out to employers who had advertised for staff. Age was the only differing factor in the applications which were otherwise identical merit-wise. Then the response from the employers was measured, for instance how many were contacted for an interview. Through this experiment, the researchers have full control over the content of the applications and can establish that any differences in the likelihood to be contacted depend on negative special treatment based on age and not on any other differences between the applicants.

Author: Magnus Carlsson and Stefan Eriksson


IFAU report 2017:8, "Påverkar arbetssökandes ålder och kön chanson att få svar på en jobbansökan? Resultat från ett fältexperiment" written by Magnus Carlsson, Linnaeus University and Stefan Eriksson, Uppsala University. The report is based on IFAU Working paper 2017:8.

If you would like to know more, please contact Magnus Carlsson on phone +46480-49 71 87, or email magnus.carlsson@lnu.se, or Stefan Eriksson on stefan.eriksson@nek.uu.se

Read more

Download the full Report 2017:8 (pdf, 692 kb) (in Swedish)
"Påverkar arbetssökandes ålder och kön chanson att få svar på en jobbansökan? Resultat från ett fältexperiment"

Download the full Working paper 2017:8 (pdf, 905kb)
"The effect of age and gender on labor demand – evidence from a field experiment"