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Women over 50? Help not wanted

January 14, 2016 at 6:25 PM EST
Do women face a tougher time finding a job than men as we age? According to economists, women 35 and up are far less likely to be considered for certain jobs than younger women or men of the same age. And the cause may be related to evolutionary biology. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: It turns out that women face a much tougher time in the job market then men do as they age.

Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, recently looked into the challenge of getting hired as a woman over 50. It’s part of our weekly segment Making Sense, which airs every Thursday on the “NewsHour.”

PAUL SOLMAN: On Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer,” the aging actress’ lament:

TINA FEY, Actress: You know how Sally Field was Tom Hanks’ love interest in “Punchline,” and then, like, 20 minutes later, she was his mom in “Forrest Gump”?

PAUL SOLMAN: Tina Fey is 45, Patricia Arquette 47.

PATRICIA ARQUETTE, Actress: I didn’t get this commercial last week for AARP because the director said I was too old to play Larry King’s wife.

PAUL SOLMAN: Schumer’s gag, these stars were celebrating 55-year-old Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ last day playing a love interest, though Schumer used a raunchier term.

AMY SCHUMER, Actress: But what about men? Like, who tells men when it’s their last (EXPLETIVE DELETED) day?

(LAUGHTER)

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, Actress: Honey, men don’t have that day.

PATRICIA ARQUETTE: Never.

PAUL SOLMAN: Turns out it’s not just the case in Hollywood. Jewish Vocational Services in San Francisco is a nonprofit that helps older people find jobs. We first visited in 2009, at the height of the great recession, when complaints of age discrimination abounded.

PATRICIA WILSON, Legal Assistant: I was told during the interview, “As you can see, we’re a very young group. And our main concern is that you are overly qualified for this job, and we would be concerned that you wouldn’t stay.”

PAUL SOLMAN: Did you believe them?

PATRICIA WILSON: No. I just felt that they didn’t think that I would fit in with the younger group.

PAUL SOLMAN: But did Patricia Wilson have it worse as a woman? We went back to JVS last week to focus on females, assembling a cast of so-called older women.

LAURA MILVY: I am almost 55.

LISA TROGDON: I am 58 years old.

WOMAN: Fifty-seven.

DENISE CARRILLO, Former Fashion Industry Executive: Sixty-four.

CYNTHIA JOSAYMA, Former International Development Consultant: I count myself as 8 plus 50.

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL SOLMAN: All of these women have had trouble finding work since 2008.

Cynthia Josayma used to work in international development.

CYNTHIA JOSAYMA: When the recession went into place, my age community all lost their jobs. And they have found that, in general, the middle-age American woman is marginalized.

DANA MICHAELS, Former Sales Representative: High-tech firms especially don’t want you.

PAUL SOLMAN: Former sales rep Dana Michaels has been looking for a job for two years.

DANA MICHAELS: They have a culture of ping-pong at the beer Fridays. I applied for a place that had nap Thursdays.

PAUL SOLMAN: Nap Thursdays?

DANA MICHAELS: Yes. And I could just see myself putting the blankets over them.

PAUL SOLMAN: Now, wait a second. These young people were taking naps?

DANA MICHAELS: On Thursdays. I was at least double their age. And I’m sure they looked at me like, oh, this old lady’s not going to fit in.

PAUL SOLMAN: Though this was high-tech San Francisco, the problem extends nationwide.

Denise Carrillo has been unemployed since losing her fashion industry job in New York in 2007.

Did you feel you were being discriminated against because you were a somewhat older woman?

DENISE CARRILLO: Yes. Yes, I did. The experience was there, my confidence was there. The compliments just rolled. But I was older. And that’s when I decided, relocate.

PAUL SOLMAN: But when you came here from New York two-and-a-half years ago, did you get responses to the resumes that you sent out?

DENISE CARRILLO: No. None. No responses.

PAUL SOLMAN: The plight of older women looking for work was the buzz at last week’s annual meeting of the American Economic Association, thanks in part to a Federal Reserve study making headlines: Women over 50 now account for half of the long-term unemployed.

But does that mean they’re being discriminated against, more than, say, men over 50?

DAVID NEUMARK, University of California, Irvine: This is, of course, one of the reasons economists step in, you know, because we’re always a little — a little skeptical of those interpretations.

PAUL SOLMAN: Economist David Neumark.

DAVID NEUMARK: Because we have all not gotten jobs we have applied for, and it doesn’t mean we were discriminated against because of whatever feature we have, age, race, sex, whatever it might be.

PAUL SOLMAN: But economists can test these interpretations with field experiments, the most famous of which may be the audit study summarized in this video, where thousands of made-up resumes were mailed to employers, identical, except for the names, half black-sounding, half-white.

The results? Black-sounding names were 50 percent less likely to get follow-up calls. David Neumark used the audit study approach to study ageism and sexism. He sent out resumes in 12 cities, using women’s names for thousands of administrative assistant and retail sales jobs, men’s names for custodian and security guard.

He also varied the age: A third of the fictional job hunters were around 30, a third around 50, a final third in their mid-60s. The results were dramatically different by age, but just among the women.

DAVID NEUMARK: The youngest group, 30-year-old or so, get about 15 percent callback rates, even higher in sales, the middle-age group lower, and the oldest group by far the lowest.

There’s a hint that older male workers have lower callback rates than younger male workers, but there’s much stronger evidence, in terms of magnitudes and how robust the finding is, of age discrimination against older women.

JOANNA LAHEY, Economist: Those dark red dots are fixations. That’s where the eye is pausing.

PAUL SOLMAN: Economist Joanna Lahey did a similar study, sending out 8,000 made-up resumes and an eye-scanning lab experiment studying how long H.R. managers looked at resumes. The red dots tell you where and for how long.

JOANNA LAHEY: And we see the years on the employment history, and we see the education and the year that they got their education.

PAUL SOLMAN: The managers looked longer at younger resumes, looked longer at the items indicating age.

JOANNA LAHEY: This one, for example, says, “I’m willing to embrace change,” which is something that the AARP used to recommend that you put on your resume and then it stopped recommending.

PAUL SOLMAN: Because it didn’t work?

JOANNA LAHEY: Well, my first study found that it actually hurt older people.

PAUL SOLMAN: Because it identified them as card-carrying members of AARP, Lahey suspects, and therefore at least 50.

So, you had people starting in their mid-30s all the way to the mid-70s.

JOANNA LAHEY: Yes.

PAUL SOLMAN: And when does age discrimination start?

JOANNA LAHEY: Immediately. It starts at age 35.

PAUL SOLMAN: Really?

JOANNA LAHEY: Yes. It’s a pretty steady process. As you get older, your amount of callbacks decrease.

PAUL SOLMAN: And it’s women more than men?

JOANNA LAHEY: It’s definitely women more than men.

PAUL SOLMAN: So the evidence is clear, but what’s the explanation?

DAVID NEUMARK: The evolutionary biologists bring everything back to you know, reproduction, right? Older men can reproduce. Older women can’t.

TINA FEY: And then we put her in the boat and we push her out into the water and we drink champagne to salute how (EXPLETIVE DELETED) she was for so many years. Cheers. Cheers.

PAUL SOLMAN: So, it could be that it’s really something inherent that’s passed on from our evolutionary heritage that just says, older women, not so much, older men, doesn’t make a difference?

DAVID NEUMARK: It could be. I mean, I think the notion that age signals something, and it’s — for some people at least, it’s a negative, is not — is not crazy.

PAUL SOLMAN: No, not crazy, as even our older women acknowledged.

LISA TROGDON: I’m trying to think back to

PAUL SOLMAN: Lisa Trogdon is 58.

LISA TROGDON: … what I thought was, when I was younger. And 50, when I was 20, 25, seemed old. And as a young person, I didn’t have the perspective, like I do now to realize, oh, they have valuable experience.

LAURA MILVY: Maybe it’s all a fear, a fear of older, more experienced people.

PAUL SOLMAN: But what’s crazy is that age signals something so much more negative for women than men.

And says economist Teresa Ghilarducci:

TERESA GHILARDUCCI, The New School: It’s going to be a bigger problem, this age discrimination problem, for women as more and more women are having to work longer, because of divorce, or because they have eroded pensions, or lower pensions, because even if they worked their whole life, they were paid less, and so they accumulated less pensions.

PAUL SOLMAN: And as Laura Milvy asked at the vocational center:

LAURA MILVY: If we’re all going to live to 100 years, and you’re trying to make women in their 50s stop working, what are we going to do for the next 50 years?.

PAUL SOLMAN: Good question.

This is “PBS NewsHour” economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting from San Francisco.


Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer” used with permission by Comedy Central. ©2015 Viacom Media Networks. All Rights Reserved. Comedy Central, all related titles, characters and logos are trademarks owned by Viacom Media Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc.

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