Employer Perceptions of Older Workers – Surveys from 2019 and 2006

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Many older Americans need to work longer in order to achieve a secure retirement. The question is whether employers will hire and retain them. This paper reports on a 2019 survey of employer perceptions of the productivity, costs, and net value of their older workers relative to their younger ones. This survey replicates a similar 2006 effort, so it also allows a comparison of employer perceptions over a period when technology has evolved and the older workforce has grown.

The key result of the 2019 survey is that older workers – in both professional and support positions – have reasonably good prospects for extending their careers. Although older workers are seen as more costly, they are also seen as more productive. Overall, the overwhelming majority of employers said older workers were “as attractive” or “more attractive” than younger workers. The main finding that emerges from a comparison of the 2019 and 2006 results is an improvement in employer perceptions of support workers.

It is always difficult to know how much weight to put on survey results. The question is the extent to which employer attitudes, which the survey measures, impact actual personnel decisions. Other surveys have recorded similar positive evaluations of older workers’ productivity, yet numerous studies have documented discrimination against older workers. Nevertheless, the 2019 survey paints a reasonably optimistic picture. It will not always be easy for older workers to extend their working careers. But these new results suggest that the potential exists.