Study: Women Over 40 - Too Old and Overpaid? Ageism is the Problem

Lisa Buyer
October 11, 2021
Study: Women Over 40 - Too Old and Overpaid? Ageism is the Problem

Seventy percent of women over the age of 40 who lost their jobs during COVID-19 remained jobless for more than six months after that. About one-third, according to an AARP study, attributed it to age discrimination. And while ageism swings both ways, research shows that in 2020 older adults took a harder hit when searching for jobs than newly minted college graduates. 

Last week, LinkedIn News Editor Cate Chapman sparked a buzzworthy conversation on ageism and women, highlighting AARP Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Martha Boudreau’s article, Ageism Affects All Generations. LinkedIn users chimed in on the hot topic, sharing their personal experiences with ageism, thoughts on possible contributing factors, and ways to fight against it.

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What is Ageism?

Ageism is defined as prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age. A woman in her early 20s can be regarded as too inexperienced to be promoted, and on the flip side, a 65-year-old woman can be deemed too seasoned for a job. 

When discussing ageism, it’s essential to understand that prejudice and discrimination are not interchangeable words. While prejudice encompasses attitude and opinion, discrimination has to do with actions and words. Neither necessarily upscales the other. Being on the receiving end of prejudice, even if it does not lead to discriminatory acts, is nonetheless offensive, uncomfortable, and disrupting.

Women Growing Older Should Not Warrant Ageism

AARP’s Martha Boudreau says that societal attitudes and practices haven’t necessarily caught up to the reality that we are working much longer than the generations before us. 

In her LinkedIn article, she highlights ageism’s impact on all generations and shares some food for thought on ageism in professional environments, marketing ads, and when hiring.

“Millennials may not think this issue concerns them, but as they begin to hit their 40s, they will likely start seeing the first signs of ageism, and in 10 short years, they will start turning 50.  That’s why everyone, regardless of their age, has a stake in changing attitudes about growing older. None of us are getting any younger, and the prevalence of ageism in our culture makes it a sure bet that everyone will experience some form of ageism in their lifetime.” -Martha Boudreau, Ageism Affects All Generations

Ageism is a Catch-22 situation. The younger generation strives to boost their resume with versatile positions, accomplishments, and certifications to ensure they are seen as experts in their fields. But once you become an older adult, all of this experience becomes blinded by age biases. 

Another example of this contradictory situation is gendered ageism. PR Disruptor Lisa Buyer says that as women, we are expected to work like we don’t have a family and have a family like we don’t work. But the burden of juggling the household, children, and work has only intensified amid the pandemic. Working mothers are expected to maintain this trifecta of duties while working fathers are not. The AARP notes that during the pandemic, women in the workforce were hit harder with long-term joblessness than men as they disproportionately account for caretaker roles

When prompted whether she would consider downshifting her career or leaving the workforce entirely, one and three women answered yes. Only 27% of men said yes to this question, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

LinkedIn Users Respond to the Ageism Stigma:

First-hand experience lost my job during Covid, and they kept the "younger" rep. It is narrow-sighted as I bring a mountain of personal and professional experience to the table. I play well with others, have way more insight, maturity, flexibility, integrity, collaboration, the list goes on. My clients loved me, and clients relate to me, making relationship building much easier. What can we do about this? -Kristina Citro, Child Development Specialist
This is the experience of many women, including me. I've had interviews with companies that said I was the best candidate, and the interview was just to make certain I was going to be happy there. After the interview, I was suddenly "the wrong personality" for them. Was I older or less attractive than they wanted for their company? I've had contracts where they were super excited to sign me, only to have the contract canceled after I was there for four days and not yet trained on their systems. Everyone else was half my age. I've applied for jobs for which I'm overqualified, underqualified, perfectly qualified, all without a response. Do the dates of my education and experience give away my age? -LeAnn Haggard, Versatile solutions-based Administrative Assistant, and Creative Project Coordinator
Ageism has been a huge obstacle for me. At 58, I lost my job in IT and have found it very difficult to secure a new opportunity. I have had a very distinguished and successful career and enjoyed respect as an expert in my field. At this season in my life, I am looking to return to a role as an individual contributor and relieve myself of the stress and responsibilities of a management position. During my interviews, potential employers have cast doubt on my ability to actually ‘do’ the work and expressed concern that I only have several years left (as they see it) in the workforce. They also question my competence with newer technologies. It is as if all they can see is a grandma. Maybe it is the cardigan. -Melynda Ward, Business Relationship management Strategist
Is it really ageism or the fact that those over a certain age command a higher salary? I tend to think it is not 100% what age you are but what salary you make. The 20 somethings will work for low wages, so that's why they are getting hired everywhere. No one wants to pay a living wage or to pay for experience. You can call it ageism; I call it cheapism! -Jane Coloccia Teixeira, President and Chief Brand Storyteller at JC Communications, LLC
“To me, age is just a number. I am 53 and feel no older than 18. I am energetic, outgoing, exercise, and eat right. I work hard, but I am a goofball. I don't act my age.” -Vivian Hochschild, Career Development Specialist at Southeast Los Angeles County Workforce Investment Board

What was previously swept under the rug to collect dust has recently radiated throughout the news and social media platforms. With just a LinkedIn post and article, Cate Chapman and Martha Beaudrou invited professionals across the country and of all industries to join the conversation and share their experiences, thoughts, and reservations on ageism. These women have proven that the best way to tackle social issues is by simply starting a conversation.

Join the Fight Against Ageism

One of the ways AARP strives to build a multigenerational workforce and put a value on the experience of older workers is through The Employer Pledge Program. While age discrimination is against the law, this pledge solidifies and safeguards a future that is committed to hiring based on ability, not age. 

Whether you’re 25 or 65, the battle against ageism is yours to fight. It’s never too early or too late to protect your career and all that you have worked so hard to achieve. Speak out, share your story, and be heard. 

Keep a lookout for next month's lineup of Empowering Women who get the chance to share their stories via

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