Confronting Ageism and the Gender Wage Gap in 2023

Updated May 18, 2023

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As we think about how the world can work better for women during Women’s History Month and beyond, it’s important to draw attention to ongoing ageism and the gender wage gap that continues to impact society—and leave older individuals and women at a disadvantage.

Throughout the turbulent years of the COVID-19 pandemic, a shift to remote work, layoffs, burnout and the Great Resignation have pushed numerous workplace issues into the spotlight. These issues include ageism, or discrimination against people at work based on age.

A 2022 AARP study found that nearly one in six adults currently working or looking for work reported that they weren’t hired for a job they applied for because of their age. 53% of recent job seekers also noted that an employer asked them to provide their birth date, while 47% were asked to provide a graduation date. 

This same study also discovered alarming data that 62% of working adults over the age of 50 believe older workers face discrimination, with an overwhelming 93% believing age discrimination against older workers is prevalent in today’s workforce.

While ageism can certainly put older workers of any gender at a severe disadvantage, research shows that it’s women between the ages of 55-64 that take the biggest impact from workplace wage gaps.

Related: The “Labor Leftovers:” A Guide to Burnout After the Great Resignation

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Women remain at a disadvantage

Although legislation such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed to help protect women and equalize their pay in the workforce, there’s much work to be done. 

The Center for American Progress released a comprehensive fact sheet in 2023 that shows women remain at a pay disadvantage compared to men despite recent progress.

This research found that younger female workers aged 16-24 earn 8% less than men each week. It also discovered that women in “prime age,” or women ages 25-54, earn a staggering 16% less than men. Even larger is the 22% pay gap between men and women ages 55-64 (another issue connected to ageism).

Then, there’s the concern about women’s earnings becoming stagnant. Data shows that working women don’t see an increase in pay after age 55, their pay remaining roughly the same as the pay they received between the ages of 25-54. 

Men’s earnings, on the other hand, continue to climb upon reaching middle age and drop only slightly after age 65, while women’s earnings decrease close to 20% for adults ages 65 or older.

While gender wage gaps and ageism aren’t fair, the problems go beyond injustice and create roadblocks for those impacted. Growing earnings can leave people better positioned to save for retirement, pay off debt, start families, continue their education and enjoy a greater quality of life. The earning gaps primarily affect women—especially widows, divorced women or those who never married—and cause higher rates of poverty in old age than men.

These issues are just some of the many arguments that support closing the gender wage gap and ageism within the workforce. Plus, recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco shows that older women looking for jobs have lower callback rates, especially in retail sales (nearly 30% for women ages 29-31, compared to about 18% for women ages 64-66). 

While the reasons themselves aren’t entirely clear, some women fear menopause is a main contributor, as menopause can create physical and mental health symptoms that can make it difficult to work.

Confronting ageism and the gender wage gap

With women earning 83 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to 2022 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there’s clearly work to be done. So, what steps can we take to solve ageism and the gender wage gap?  Here are some suggestions that might help alleviate these issues.

Educate yourself

First and foremost, keeping yourself informed about workplace issues that plague older adults and women is the biggest step you can take in the fight for equality, and that’s because change starts with you. 

Read articles from trusted sources and reputable publications, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries and check out books to stay updated on workforce or company culture. You can also monitor legislation at the state or federal level that may impact equal pay, or set up Google Alerts to notify you when new legislative measures are introduced.

Promote awareness

Next, it’s important not to keep that information to yourself. Informing your inner circle, such as friends, family, and colleagues, is a great way to draw attention to ageism and gender wage gaps. 

It’s easy to forget these issues exist, especially if they do not personally impact you. A gentle reminder can go a long way in helping others remember (and care) that many women and older adults remain at a pay disadvantage in the workforce. You can also share content on social media to spread the message beyond your inner circle.

Use your voice

Your voice can carry further than your surroundings. If you feel passionate about solving ageism and the gender wage gap for good, consider using your voice on a greater level, such as joining a rally, writing to lawmakers, or visually alerting people to the issue by placing a sign on your lawn or keeping a sticker in eyesight (such as on your car, front door or by your desk at work).

Create new policies

Employers and business owners have the advantage of creating new policies at work that can help reduce gender wage gaps and ageism. Interviewers can be instructed to avoid requesting birth dates or graduation dates from interviewees, and online job postings can include a salary or salary range to help promote pay awareness. 

This way, job seekers aren’t left in the dark when it comes to how much a prospective job pays, and a firm salary or salary range leaves significantly less room for pay discrepancies. Raising the minimum wage can also be effective.

Conduct pay equity analyses

Sometimes, unequal pay and hiring practices slide under the radar, intentionally or unintentionally. If you’re a business owner or high-level manager, conducting a pay equity analysis (or asking those above you to conduct one) can be an excellent way to shed light on known or unknown wage gaps. 

Based on the information uncovered, you can make an informed decision about how to best address any issues that impact women or older adults.

Practice diversity and inclusion

Promoting equal pay from the top-down is one of the most impactful ways to positively change company culture. A focus on diversity and inclusion can go a long way in educating employees on workplace discrepancies and can also help those who have been impacted by them find a voice or feel heard.

This can be done by encouraging open dialogue between employees and their managers, offering D&I (diversity and inclusion) training on a regular basis, allowing equal career advancement for all ages and genders, and celebrating workers for their hard work.

Negotiate for better pay

If you’re a worker and you feel that your pay is too low due to gender or age, it’s time to speak up. Consider meeting with your manager to discuss your career path, current role and pay, and explain in a constructive and positive way why you believe you deserve higher pay

If there’s a known pay discrepancy between you and another worker with similar seniority and duties, you can point this out. Be sure to go into these meetings with a good attitude because demanding higher pay in an unprofessional manner may not get you the results you want.

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The bottom line

Closing gender wage gaps for good and alleviating ageism start with education and being aware of these prevalent issues. Workplace inequalities have arguably grown more pronounced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s no better time than now to take action.

To help promote equal pay and hiring practices, learning about pay issues that workers face today (such as the Latina pay gap) can shed light on ongoing problems and help you identify areas in which you can personally help. This can take on the form of self-advocacy, building new policies or writing to lawmakers, but there’s no such thing as an action too small. Every step taken to achieve equal pay is a step in the right direction that can create lasting change.

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