Too old to work?

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Scientific interpretation

“It’s an art to contemplate what the years bring us rather than what they deprive us of.” If André Gide had written this in 2019, it would still be relevant. In an age when employees in industrialized countries have longer careers than those in previous generations, and in a context of labour force instability and shortage, organizations have every interest to adopt human resource management practices that encourage the retention of older workers.

Zaniboni et al. (2019) examined the effects of age-related stereotypes (ageism) on the process of hiring older workers in order to reflect on practical implications to avoid falling into the trap of discrimination, whether conscious (explicit stereotypes) or unconscious (implicit stereotypes).


Alessia NEGRINI, researcher, Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST), Montréal.


Étienne FOUQUET, research assistant, Université de Sherbrooke
Marie-Élise LABRECQUE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.


Participants’ ages

In this study, the older workers are aged 50 and over, and the young workers are aged 34 and under.


Explicit stereotypes

This is a form of ageism that an individual engages in consciously through their thoughts, feelings and actions towards older people.

For example, a recruiter may think that older applicants will perform less well at work and could consider them less fit for the position than young applicants.


Implicit stereotypes

This is a form of ageism that a person engages in without conscious awareness or control; it occurs automatically.

For example, in a selection process, a recruiter who has unconscious preferences for younger workers may engage in nonverbal communication (interpersonal distance, for example) that makes an older applicant feel less comfortable during the job interview..


Complete reference

Zaniboni, S., Kmicinska, M., Truxillo, D. M., Kahn, K., Paladino, M. P., & Fraccaroli, F. (2019). Will you still hire me when I am over 50? The effects of implicit and explicit age stereotyping on resume evaluations. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 1-15.


Country: Italy
Average organizational tenure: 16 years
Number of participants: 110
Age range: 18-65 years
Gender of participants: 50% women, 50% men

Participant recruitment:
Participants were recruited through ads posted on bulletin boards in universities, municipal libraries and temporary rental agencies (or temporary employment agencies).

Method used:

A two-phased laboratory experiment was conducted to test the study’s hypotheses. All measures and conditions were administered via computers and chosen on the basis of two pilot studies previously carried out by the researchers.

The goal of phase 1 was to measure participants’ explicit and implicit stereotypes. Implicit stereotypes were measured through associations between photos of older workers and younger workers and categorizations such as “good worker” and “bad worker.” Explicit stereotypes were measured by using a seven-item evaluation matrix (active/passive, productive/non-productive, progressive/old-fashioned, cautious/risk-taking, creative/uncreative, motivated/unmotivated, easy to train/impossible to train).

During phase 2, participants were asked to imagine that they were recruiters for the human resources department of a bank and to evaluate resumes for a cashier position. To avoid gender bias, only photos of male applicants were given to participants. Participants had to evaluate the resumes of six applicants with equivalent qualifications, one after the other, in random order. Three resumes were for older applicants (aged 50, 54 and 55), while the remaining three were the resumes of younger applicants (aged 26, 28 and 30).

When the task was completed, as a manipulation check, participants were asked to evaluate how many of the applicants were under the age of 50 and how many were 50 and over.

What do the results of the study tell us?

Explicit and implicit age-related stereotypes have a negative impact on the process of hiring older workers, but in different ways.

  1. Participants of all ages manifested negative implicit (uncontrolled) and explicit (conscious) age stereotypes concerning the older applicants compared to the younger applicants.
  2. Participants had a less favourable opinion of the resumes of older applicants than those of the younger applicants with the same qualifications.
  3. Explicit age-related stereotypes favour the younger applicants, but have no effect on the evaluations of the older applicants’ resumes.
  4. Implicit age-related stereotypes have a negative effect on the evaluation of older applicants’ resumes, but have no effect on those of younger applicants.

What can organizations do?

This section presents actions on the organizational level that will guide managers in their thinking.

Food for thought


Age should not have an effect on human resource management practices.

  • The hiring process can be affected by an objective and subjective evaluation of the applicant.
  • When the applicant’s evaluation is negative, the recruiters’ final decision may be influenced by stereotypes related to the age of the applicant, which manifest themselves through discriminatory behaviours. An example would be rejecting an applicant who has the qualifications required for the position based on their age.

Develop human resource management practices whose goal is to include marginalized workers such as older workers.

  • Develop a nondiscriminatory organizational culture and inclusion strategies to facilitate intergenerational cohabitation through training, activities or group workshops, to name a few.
  • Create work groups in which the different age groups are represented to benefit from everyone’s experience.


Comments from our expert

This study is set in a context typical of most industrialized countries, namely, the ageing of the workforce and the need to retain older workers and maintain their health.

In such a context, the presence of age stereotypes can have a negative impact on the process of hiring applicants aged 50 and over, as well as on other human resource management practices that could discriminate against them once they are hired, such as access to continued training and career advancement. Conversely, an organization that has a nondiscriminatory culture regarding age can contribute to the psychological health of older workers and encourage their retention.

Older workers are more inclined to extend their professional careers if they feel they are working for an organization that seeks to include marginalized workers such as older workers, women or immigrants by, for example, fairly distributing rewards and promotions.


Negrini, A., Fouquet, E., Labrecque, M-E. (2019). Too old to work?. Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at www.global-watch.com


Zaniboni, S., Kmicinska, M., Truxillo, D. M., Kahn, K., Paladino, M. P., & Fraccaroli, F. (2019). Will you still hire me when I am over 50? The effects of implicit and explicit age stereotyping on resume evaluations. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 1-15.

Also available at global-watch.com

Pierre Breton
Author: Pierre Breton