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.