More than 60% of Americans report age discrimination on the job, and most experience it while seeking a job, trying to secure a promotion or when nearing retirement.
“Age discrimination stands out among other forms of workplace discrimination. Unlike race or sex-based discrimination, it’s something that all workers could experience at some point in their careers,” Tetyana Shippee, Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health said.
The impact of age discrimination among women in the workplace could be particularly damaging, “We know from previous research that women are experiencing the bulk of age discrimination in the workplace. What we don’t know is how experiencing this discrimination over time impacts women’s mental health and wellbeing,” Shippee said.
To find out, Shippee and her colleagues, Lindsay Wilkinson of Baylor University, Markus Schafer of the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and Nathan Shippee of the University of Minnesota, examined the National Longitudinal Survey of Mature Women to see if age discrimination at work influences women’s depressive symptoms and life satisfaction. They also looked into how financial strain plays into the equation.
This study was unique in using nationally-representative data on working women followed for over three decades to disentangle the relationship between age discrimination and mental health. The authors also used both objective (wages, assets) and subjective (perceived financial hardship) measures of finances as a link between age discrimination and mental health.
“Including only standard measures of income and wealth does not capture the complete story of financial loss and the stress it generates due to reported discrimination, thus we also incorporated a self-reported measure of financial hardship,” Shippee said.
The results, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, found that women who experienced age discrimination at work reported higher levels of depressive symptoms over time relative to women who did not report age discrimination, even when accounting for other health and demographic factors. These women also reported high levels of perceived financial strain as a result of age discrimination at work, which is one explanation for higher levels of depressive symptoms.
“Women who felt like their age was the factor that kept them from getting that next promotion, or forced them into retiring early, experienced depressive symptoms as a result of that,” Shippee said.
Women who reported age discrimination also reported lower life satisfaction. “Age discrimination causes a lot of stress. When you experience that kind of chronic stress over time, it adds up and can truly impact how these women feel about the success of their lives as a whole and thus has a toxic effect on their health and well-being,” Shippee said.
These results have major implications for employees and policymakers, “Ageism in the workplace is a huge stressor for employees – women in particular. Experiencing ageism can impact their mental health long-term, and the ramifications of that can ripple across the working world,” Shippee said.
For the researchers, this study solidifies the need for further investigation of age discrimination, along with other forms of mistreatment, and analyses that move away from simply documenting the prevalence of age discrimination to examining mechanisms for how discrimination impacts well-being and identifying points for interventions.