The unique disadvantage older women face in the workforce

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It’s important for older women seeking employment to understand the particular challenges they face in the labor market, says economist Teresa Ghilarducci. Getty Images

Editor’s Note: For a recent Making Sen$e segment, Paul Solman caught up with economist Teresa Ghilarducci to discuss why the job market is harder on aging women than aging men. We asked Ghilarducci to share some of her practical advice from her new book, “How To Retire With Enough Money and How To Know What Enough Is.” The book also discusses retirement, savings, Social Security and why you should get rid of your financial planner.

Below, Ghilarducci explains what older women face in the job market and some tips on how to beat the odds. Watch the full segment on older women workers at the bottom of the post.

— Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor


It’s important for older women seeking employment to understand the particular challenges they face in the labor market.

New research from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank suggests that when the 2008 crash caused a massive surge in unemployment, the hardest hit were older job seekers, especially women. After the crash, the chances of being long-term unemployed more than doubled for people over 65. Before the crash in 2007, 14 percent of women over 65 were unemployed for longer than 27 weeks; in 2013, over 50 percent were. In contrast, 23 percent of older men were long-term unemployed in 2007, and 48 percent were in 2013.

New research from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank suggests that when the 2008 crash caused a massive surge in unemployment, the hardest hit were older job seekers, especially women.

Adding to that, economic research confirms what many older workers already know: Difficult as it is to get a new job, getting a job that is just as good as your old one is almost impossible. Unemployed older workers who get rehired experience an average earnings loss of 25 percent compared to earnings of their previous job. This is mainly due to the new job offering fewer hours, which results in less pay.

The job application process is especially difficult for older women. Economists Harry Farber and Til von Wachter found that college-educated women over 50 are much less likely to receive a callback after an interview for an administrative position than younger college-educated women.

Sex discrimination is not news to anyone, but the combination of sexism and age discrimination is a unique disadvantage for older women in the workforce.

Advice for Older Women Looking for Work

My advice to all workers is to make prospective employers feel that they would be lucky to have you. Here are some tips for older job seekers looking to increase their appeal, taken from my new book, “How to Retire With Enough Money and How to Know What Enough Is.”

  1. Make it easy for employers to see your worth to THEM. Demonstrate that you will solve their problem by showing specifically why your life experience — even if it includes years off to care for a sick parent — makes you a savvy strategist.
  2. Make it hard for a potential employer to know your age. Leave off dates you graduated from various schools.
  3. Follow economist Peter Cappelli’s advice to write your resume so a computer picks you out among thousands of applicants.
  4. Research indicates that a white lie of omission might be necessary. If you are college educated and had to take a low-level job while you were looking for a professional one, you might want to leave it off your resume. Research suggests that older, college-educated women who took a low-level job while they were searching for a professional position received fewer callbacks than those who didn’t have low-level positions on their resumes.
  5. Stay technologically literate. “Hey, don’t look at me,” you might be saying. “It’s not like I’m still on MySpace.” But technological proficiency isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. An ongoing one. Don’t spike the ball at the 40-yard line. Keep moving forward. Tech literacy makes you look hirable to an employer and advances in technology tend to make jobs easier, not harder — if they didn’t, they wouldn’t replace old methods.
  6. Get mid-career education. You wouldn’t want an operation to be done by a surgeon who finished his residency in 1998 and then never updated his skills; you’d want somebody who’s kept on top of new procedures and techniques. What applies to medicine applies to many other fields. Software and technological devices are used in a great many fields, and they’re constantly changing. New machines, new markets, new techniques, new ideas, new priorities…You’ll face some or all of those over the course of a long career. Be interested, be engaged and embrace change.
  7. Make and keep friends in your line of work. Networking was a popular concept of the 1990s for a reason: It paid off. It still does. If you’ve been laid off, connections and goodwill are incredibly important to getting the next job. People will pick up the phone and talk to someone they know and like. They’re much less likely to answer a phone message with an unfamiliar name and number attached.
  8. Scale back your expectations. It’d be ideal to keep working in your chosen field, the one in which you’ve spent most of your career, but that may not be possible. Statistics tell us that employers in manufacturing, finance, insurance, wholesale trade, scientific and technical services, arts and entertainment and the recreation industry all have a strong bias toward hiring younger people. However, older workers may find jobs in home health care, retail trade, management, administrative support, waste management services, education, health care and the social assistance sector. Those professions may not sound as interesting as your old one, but new challenges are fun and exciting — go for it!
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