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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 April 2006, 21:10 GMT 22:10 UK
How age discrimination works
Dr Peter Riach and Dr Judith Rich
Dr Peter Riach and Dr Judith Rich researched age discrimination
In Panorama: Must have own teeth, the programme had exclusive access to the most comprehensive study of age discrimination in the British workplace.

Researchers Dr Peter Riach and Dr Judith Rich used a technique originally used to test for race discrimination in England in the 1960s.

It uses two candidates with identical qualifications, ability and experience, but difference in race or age (whichever is being tested). Their job applications are then sent to potential employers.

There is a challenge in applying this to test age discrimination, because factors such as experience and qualifications can grow with age, whereas physical or mental agility could decline.

Here Dr Riach and Dr Rich explain how they conducted their study and their remarkable findings.


We matched two women who had graduated simultaneously with degrees in economics or law; one was 21 and the other was 39.

The latter had spent 16 years in child-raising and secretarial work, which provided no relevant experience for the graduate employment being sought.

Our "mature-age" graduate received interview invitations at only 38% of the rate enjoyed by the 21-year-old. A contemporaneous qualification and activity in competitive squash failed to deter many employers from discarding the application of an applicant who had attained the "advanced" age of 39.

Two male waiters of 27 and 47 were also matched in applications across England; the physical ability of the 47 year-old was confirmed by participation in competitive squash and mental flexibility by interest in computers and the internet.

Despite 20 more years experience the middle-aged waiter received interview invitations at only 60% of the rate enjoyed by the 27 year-old. When we examined responses for the subset of London applications the outcome was even more discriminatory; the middle-aged waiter received interview invitations at only 25% of the rate enjoyed by the 27 year-old.

The rate of discrimination we recorded for 47 year-old London waiters is the highest ever recorded anywhere in the world for any discriminatory characteristic.

We matched two women of 27 and 47 in applications to retail clothing stores in London; in this case the younger woman received interview invitations at 60 per cent of the rate enjoyed by the middle-aged woman.

This result can be interpreted as a rational response to the greater experience of the middle-aged woman, and is consistent with research elsewhere in the area of retail sales.

Dr Peter Riach: Research Fellow, Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA)

Dr Judith Rich: Principal Lecturer in Economics, University of Portsmouth and Research Fellow, Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA)

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