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Age discrimination laws don’t protect older women as they do older men

Older women in the workforce should be considered collectively as a unique demographic group that includes both gender and age if they’re to receive adequate protection against workplace discrimination.

Photo by Luis Machado from Unsplash.com

Older women in the workforce should be considered collectively as a unique demographic group that includes both gender and age if they’re to receive adequate protection against workplace discrimination.

This is according to a paper that appeared in “Labour: Review of Labor Economics and Industrial Relations“.

“Age discrimination laws may be ineffective or less effective for older women,” said Joanne Song McLaughlin, an assistant professor of economics in University at Buffalo’s College of Arts and Sciences. “(W)omen are falling through the cracks.”

In the US, for instance, there are two laws supposed to provide equal employment opportunities: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII). ADEA prohibits age discrimination, while Title VII prohibits gender discrimination.

But the two laws function independent of one another and do not work well in concert, because each is a separate statute. The courts subsequently do not usually allow cases that combine them. It’s either age or gender in cases of discrimination, which fails ultimately to guard against the circumstances faced by older women: intersectional discrimination, the point where multiple demographic characteristics are responsible for limiting opportunities.

McLaughlin said that previous research suggests the laws seem to protect older male workers. She also cited studies showing differential treatment against older women and the role of appearance.

“These theories could explain why employers may demonstrate adverse treatment against older women that may be different from older men,” she said.

To test her hypothesis on the potential ineffectiveness of the antidiscrimination statutes, McLaughlin relied on two identification strategies examining the laws’ effects on older men and older women at both state and federal levels in the US. She found 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.

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“In some cases, I found that age discrimination laws did not improve the labor market outcomes for older women at all,” said McLaughlin.

She also conducted numerous tests looking for alternative explanations about the gender difference in age discrimination laws, but “all my results consistently find that age discrimination laws were far less effective for older women compared with older men.”

“Older women’s intersectional discrimination must be recognized as a separate cause of action,” McLaughlin ended.

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