A majority of Americans report age discrimination on the job, and most experience it while seeking employment, trying to earn a promotion, or when nearing retirement. A new study from the School of Public Health shows that women who experienced age discrimination at work reported higher levels of depressive symptoms over time relative to women who did not report age discrimination.
The study was published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.
“Age discrimination stands out among other forms of workplace discrimination,” said lead author and Assistant Professor Tetyana Shippee. “Unlike race or sex-based discrimination, it’s something that all workers could experience at some point in their careers. We also know from previous research that women experience the bulk of age discrimination in the workplace.”
Not only did the study show that age discrimination led to more depressive symptoms in women, it also revealed high levels of perceived financial strain as a result of age discrimination at work, which is one explanation for higher levels of depressive symptoms.
“Women who felt like their age was the factor that kept them from getting a promotion, or forced them into retiring early, experienced depressive symptoms as a result of that,” says Shippee.
Women who reported age discrimination reported lower life satisfaction, as well.
“Age discrimination causes a lot of stress,” says Shippee. “When you experience that kind of chronic stress over time, it adds up and can truly impact how these women feel about the success of their lives as a whole and thus has a toxic effect on their health and well-being.”
The authors also used both objective (wages, assets) and subjective (perceived financial hardship) measures of finances as a link between age discrimination and mental health.
“Including only income and wealth does not capture the complete story of financial loss and the stress it generates due to reported discrimination, thus we also incorporated a self-reported measure of financial hardship,” says Shippee.
Shippee noted that ageism in the workplace is a huge stressor for employees — especially women.
“Experiencing ageism can impact their mental health long-term, and the ramifications of that can ripple across the working world,” says Shippee.
The researchers said there is a need for further investigation of age discrimination and other forms of mistreatment. They recommend that analyses move away from simply documenting the prevalence of age discrimination to examining mechanisms for how discrimination has an impact on well-being and identifying points for interventions.