Yes, Age Discrimination Is Worse in IT Than in Other Fields

Don Tennant

In my "Age Discrimination in IT: At Least the Pain Is Shared" post last week, I wrote about how this injurious practice occurs across career fields, including the IT profession. My observation that IT "hardly corners the market on age discrimination" may have been construed as suggesting that IT workers are no harder hit than workers in any other profession. If so, I need to address that.

 

In that post, I quoted Dr. Norm Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California at Davis who has written extensively on the topic of age discrimination in IT. Matloff subsequently e-mailed me to express his disagreement with the way I had portrayed age discrimination in IT compared to other professions:

"While it's good to see you address the age discrimination problem and I sympathize with your wife in her difficulty to find employment in the HR field, I do take issue with your implication that age discrimination is no worse in IT than in other fields.One of the things I've done in my research on this topic is to compare career longevity of [computer science] grads and civil engineering grads. I found that the [computer science] grads had much shorter careers than the civil engineers, even though the two fields arguably utilize similar skill sets, etc. Why the difference? I've long maintained that IT employers use the alleged fast pace of technological change in IT as an excuse to justify shunning older workers, an excuse that would not fly well in civil engineering."

I'm unaware of any other research that specifically addresses age discrimination by career field, and that would corroborate Matloff's findings, but I don't disagree with the sensibility of his conclusion. It seems quite probable that IT workers are disproportionately affected, because our perceptions of technological change and youthfulness are likely interwoven, if only on a subconscious level.

 

A 2008 study published in the Information Resources Management Journal, "An Explorative Study of Age Discrimination in IT Wages," looked at the impact of age discrimination on IT professionals across industries and job functions. While the research didn't address age discrimination against IT workers compared to workers in other professions, the report was built on the premise that age is valued less in IT than in other fields:

"Age and experience, which elsewhere gets people promoted, are no help in the Silicon Valley; on the contrary, there is a distinct bias in favor of youth. For example, a Computerworld study of Information Technology Professionals (ITP) age 30 and older reported that it took them 50% longer than employees younger than 30 to find a job."

The study found that while the prevalence of age discrimination varies by industry and job function within IT, the IT profession itself strongly favors younger employees:

"Based on the results from this model, we have shown that age treatment discrimination exists in the overall IT workforce, and provided a quantitative measurement of this treatment bias. In addition, age treatment discrimination is shown to not be uniformly observed across industries and job categories. Specifically, our results indicate that age treatment discrimination favors older employees over younger employees in some industries (such as manufacturing and government), and it favors younger employees over older employees in other industries (such as IT and finance). Our findings show that more dynamic industries favor younger workers more than traditional and governmental ones. In the area of job categories, however, the results indicate that age treatment discrimination consistently favors younger employees over older ones. This is due to the fact that all the jobs are IT-related, and the IT industry has been found to have a strong preference for younger workers."

So while I was unable to find any empirical evidence that age discrimination is more of a problem in IT than in, say, journalism or HR, the very fact that it's been so conclusively documented in IT certainly suggests that the practice is especially common in that profession.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post

Jan 6, 2010 4:34 AM Mark Mark  says:

I haven't personally experienced, to my knowledge, age discrimination, mainly because I became a manager and expanded my scope. However, the trend seems to be there for programmers, admins, and the like. The issue, in my opinion, is not age. The driver for younger tech workers is the same driver for foreign tech workers: they are "cheaper."

There is a huge gap in the actual real skills needed in IT and non-technical management's ideas of what these skills are. It is hard to measure IT skill, so it is easy to lump all C or PHP or Java programmers into the same bucket. Anyone in tech knows (or should know) that the productivity differential between the best programmers and the worst is 100-1. Yet, to almost all the non-tech managers I have dealt with, a C programmer is a C programmer is a C programmer.

Neophyte techies of all ages and backgrounds are worse than experienced techies. Unfortunately, experienced techies are really good at tech, and lousy at selling themselves and their profession. Hence, we get bad software written by sub-par people, and it is accepted because real techies have a hard time demonstrating their worth.

Tech personnel should add one more skill to their repertoire: "sales." CIOs and tech executives should learn this too, and also learn how to grow a spine when dealing with clueless, "cost" cutting Finance/CFO and MBA types.

Reply
Jan 6, 2010 5:38 AM Anthony Anthony  says:

I have been in IT, both end-user corporation and vendor side, for 28 years.  I agree with the conclusions, and have personally been aware of the age discrimination trends for years.  All one has to do is simply look around IT shops and technology companies and the trend is irrefutable. IT is not a profession to grow old in.  However, I hope optimistically that as IT continues to mature that the population of IT professionals will be able to mature with it.  The best defense? ... keep your skills current! 

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Jan 6, 2010 6:27 AM Lauren Brice Lauren Brice  says: in response to Anthony

I've been in IT about as long as Anthony. His statements and suggestions track 100% with me.

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Jan 7, 2010 1:10 AM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to Fishwood

'Corner the market: to become so successful at selling or making a particular product that almost no one else sells or makes it.' (thefreedictionary.com)

As I trust you know, the idiom is widely used in contexts other than products and markets. What I meant was that it is hardly the case that almost no one other than IT workers faces age discrimination. So yes, you misconstrued it.

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Jan 7, 2010 2:37 AM Fishwood Fishwood  says: in response to Don Tennant

I look forward to your next pair of columns, where you declare that American IT workers aren't getting beaten up by the H-1B program, and then respond to your critics by saying "I didn't say they weren't losing their livelihoods and financial well-being, and not committing suicide, I only said they weren't getting beaten up, and there have been hardly any cases of IT workers getting punched and kicked by any federal legislation. You ignorant bigots should stop your irrational fears of getting punched and kicked by legislation, I'm only trying to stir up traffic to my blog hhhhhh open discussion of controversial issues."

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Jan 7, 2010 3:10 AM POed Lib POed Lib  says:

What is the actual purpose of this blog?  You respond to occasional posts, usually dismissively.  You select one of 3-4 comments to respond to.  Your responses indicate that you are a running dog of the corporatist job dumpers. 

What are you accomplishing with the blog?  Nothing as far as I can tell.

One interesting trend is that outsourcing is coming to journalism.  You hacks do little of actual value, and can easily be replaced by some low-talent Indian.  They all know English too.  Your modest salary could probably employ 2-3 Indians.

I really am looking forward to many of you cheerleaders for job destruction getting yours. 

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Jan 7, 2010 4:54 AM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to POed Lib

The purpose of this blog is to raise controversial issues for open, healthy discussion, and to provide you and everyone else with an easily-accessible, cost-free forum to air your views.

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Jan 7, 2010 12:02 PM Fishwood Fishwood  says:

My observation that IT 'hardly corners the market on age discrimination' may have been construed as suggesting that IT workers are no harder hit than workers in any other profession.

Yes, I construed it that way.  Was I miscontruing it? How did you intend it?

Just as nobody claims there are zero jobs for American STEM workers (you busted that straw man by pointing out that the glass is nearly half full, so we should just get over our hang up about the emptiness (i.e. the jobs not going to unemployed and underemployed American workers)) nobody claimed that there is zero age discrimination elsewhere.

H-1B explicitly skews the market to devalue American tech workers (I wouldn't be so concerned if my salary were cut in half, if my rent, my medical bills, my food costs and so forth also dropped by that much); age discrimination hits IT a lot harder than any other market besides that for models and actresses.

Please do not misconstrue THIS comment as angry or racist or xenophobic.

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Jan 8, 2010 11:06 AM Shawn Gibson Shawn Gibson  says: in response to Don Tennant

Don, your sponsors, the Desi bodyshops, are flooding the market with low-wage, low-skill twenty-somethings, so that doesn't help middle-aged Americans in I.T.

And why are H-1B bodyshops suing American citizens, including Eric Holder and Janet Napalitano?

Yes, you heard right.  Here is a link to the suit by Apex Technology Group, and they expect American tax dollars to pay:

http://endh1b2.com/Web/APEX_Complaint.pdf

So, as EFF says, Apex has gotten numerous websites shut down (maybe this one will next):

http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/01/order-shut-down-websites-critical-apex-technology-

AND THEN THEY WANT THE SAME AMERICANS THEY HARASSED TO PAY FOR THEIR FRIVOLOUS LAWSUITS AGAINST THE U.S. GOV'T.

Nice bunch of people you helping to import, you f-ing shill.

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Jan 13, 2010 3:55 AM Drunken Economist Drunken Economist  says: in response to Shawn Gibson

Judging by the lack of any incisive comment and the predictable content scraping in this blog entry, I think Don Tennant could easily be replaced by an RSS feed to something shallow. Like say, either Digg or Fark.

No need to give his 'job' to an H1B when a well written script would suffice.

You could even use a randomizing function to respond to comments in haiku. Or limerick.

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Jan 14, 2010 7:58 AM numen numen  says:

My experience is that the larger employers don't bother discriminating by age, they simply choose the cheapest, and the older, more experienced IT workers get lost.  Because managers for the last twenty years have been totally incompetent at judging quality work (they seldom come up from the ranks of IT work themselves anymore), so cost is all they can count.

This was confirmed by a borker, who told me that the contract agencies are getting pressure to provide "unit pricing" where employers would pay all IT workers the same wage, no matter what the experience or skillset.

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Jan 11, 2012 8:03 AM Joe I.T. Joe I.T.  says:

Just happened recently, I was interviewed for Senior Analyst position at a large Southern Utility company...

They were SO eager to get me in for the face-to-face interview, I had all the answers, 20 years of experience covered Lead, automation, performance test, inventing automation frameworks. I've done it all.

Then the email "...we are continuing with other candidates..."  2 days later.

When you're over 55, this kind of thing happens, just try to prove Age Discrimination!

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Feb 9, 2013 3:15 PM William William  says:
I have just been made redundant after a reverse engineered process that managed to find me less experienced that other engineers with a fraction in my years of experience. About three years ago a new manager took over the department I worked in and it was obvious from the start I was not a part of his plans. Over the years he brought in a lot of younger engineers and applied them to key roles and new technologies while leaving me on the aging technologies. Before this manager took over my qualifications and skills were always kept current however he blocked every attempt by me to work on or train in the emerging technologies. When a round of redundancies came about the newer technologies were heavily weighted against the older ones putting me at a great disadvantage, so I was not surprised when it was me who get the boot. I have also been unable to get a new job as my skills are not what they should be due to the refusal of the Company to provide me with training. I now have to consider that at the age of 54 driving a taxi might be my only means of getting a job. I thought this practise was illegal, so who is policing IT; Nobody! Reply
Jun 13, 2013 10:53 AM Tara Tara  says:
@William - all of my prayers to you tonight - I hope that you find good employment - I would recommend you get a professional resume written and maybe some interview coaching too - it will boost your confidence and keep you strong! Reply
Jul 16, 2013 1:25 AM Mike S. Mike S.  says:
The point that is lost in this discussion is that H1Bs that have flooded this country in last few years tend to hire their own nationality. Aside from age discrimination, we face racial discrimination by mostly Indian managers in IT industry. I talked to many others who have reached the conclusion that Indians hire only Indians. They have no regard for equal rights law of this country. Take a walk in campus of many high tech companies in Silicon Valley or I bet it would be the same other places. You will see mainly Indians as if you were in India and not the United States of America. I would argue for IT professional the age discrimination is the result of corporate race to lower cost at any price. Jobs are either outsourced and whatever is left is filled by cheap imported workers. Even the internship programs are going to their kids. There is no future for American in this industry. Reply
Dec 10, 2013 9:24 AM joy please joy please  says: in response to Mike S.
Mike, As an Indian I agree with the 1st part of your post. But don't agree where you allege racial discrimination. My take is that Indian companies are recruiting Indians(mostly from India) only because they are cheaper and more 'manageable'(as one manager put it). More 'manageable' means they can be made to put in longer hours making them cheaper all the more. Unfortunately, programming is no rocket surgery and therefore these hungry junior imports are able to put in an acceptable job though a far inferior one than that of the experienced programmers'. Reply

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