Surprising study pinpoints why women face a double whammy of age and sex discrimination at work

By Arianne Cohen

Women continue to earn roughly 77 cents on the dollar when compared to men. But a new paper in Labour shows that as women age, they face a double whammy of sex and age discrimination from which laws do not adequately protect them. The result is that many older women who want to continue working are not even in the workforce.

The issue is that aging women face both sex discrimination and age discrimination, which is called “intersectional discrimination”—and discrimination laws protect against one or the other, not the combination. The result, says economist Joanne Song McLaughlin, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo, is that older men fare much better on the job market. “These women are falling through the cracks. All my results consistently find that age discrimination laws were far less effective for older women compared with older men. In some cases, I found that age discrimination laws did not improve the labor market outcomes for older women at all.”

If you’ve ever been to court, you know that courts tend to address one small matter at a time and can miss the big picture. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act are among the federal laws intended to provide equal employment opportunities, but courts typically hear cases related to one or the other and do not allow cases that combine the two separate statutes.

The solution, says McLaughlin, is for laws to be applied jointly, as well as for future legislation to overtly acknowledge intersectional discrimination such as age-plus-sex discrimination. But the first step is awareness: Older women (as well as women of color, and gay men of color, among many groups) face steep discrimination. Hire ’em.


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