As early as in one’s 40s, jobseekers have a lower chance of being called in for an interview, according to a Swedish study. (Illustrative photo: d13, Shutterstock, NTB scanpix)
As early as in one’s 40s, jobseekers have a lower chance of being called in for an interview, according to a Swedish study. (Illustrative photo: d13, Shutterstock, NTB scanpix)

Job hunt: Middle aged and older – get cold shoulder

The chances of being considered for a job seem to drop significantly when applicants are in their 40s, even if they otherwise have identical qualifications as younger persons, according to a Swedish study.


Job discrimination has changed directions. Women are no longer handicapped by having children, according to a Swedish study reported by the Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv this week.

Although one study indicates the penalty for being a mother has diminished down towards extinction, another Swedish analysis shows that job applicants, men or women, have trouble finding a position in the workforce if they are middle aged or even older.

Different lines of work

The researchers in the latter study sent in 6,000 bogus job applications to employers who had advertised their need for new employees in an array of professions and job types.

The researchers then tallied how many of these non-existent jobseekers got lucky and received initial positive responses.

They found that elderly and middle aged jobseekers are more readily discarded than younger applicants from the list to be given further consideration. The chance of being contacted by an employer drops considerably when jobseekers reach their 40s and chances continue to decrease the older they get. When a Swede is nearly a pensioner he or she cannot almost forget about coming under consideration.

“There is no doubt that employers discriminate and age is a negative factor in the recruiting process,” says Magnus Carlsson, one of the researchers who carried out the study along with colleagues at Uppsala University.

Worst for women

A ten-year-older age resulted in about a five percent smaller chance of being contacted.

The researchers also found out that women were somewhat more prone to being discriminated against on grounds of age than men were.

“On average there were minor differences based on gender, but this varied between types of jobs,” says Carlsson to ScienceNordic’s partner

Elderly viewed as inflexible

One would think that older persons have more life and work experience. So why do employers have their doubts about hiring them? The researchers asked some of the employers. 

Employers mentioned three characteristics which they deem important among their employees: They must be capable of learning new things, be flexible and adaptable and finally they ought to be skilled and resourceful, meaning they are able to take initiatives.

“Employers are concerned about persons over the age of 40 having lost some of these qualities,” explains Eriksson of Uppsala University.

The researchers think age discrimination in the job market is unfortunate for several reasons.

One is because it results in less job rotation because older employees who might consider shifting jobs just hang on to what they have in fear of unemployment. Poor circulation in the workforce can curb development and innovation, and thus hinder economic growth.

There are also the psychological costs for those who find they are not needed in the labour force. This in turn can lead to social costs.

How the study was done

The study was conducted in 2015 and 2016 as an experiment. More than 6,000 applications from imaginary applicants aged 35 to 70 were submitted in response to listings of job vacancies.

The want-ads were for a number of professions, from cooks to salesclerks in stores, sanitation personnel and various administrative jobs.

The fictive applicants differed in age but otherwise had identical qualifications. The researchers could thus see that age was the only reason why some were considered by employers and others were excluded.
The study was used in a report at Sweden’s Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy, IFAU.

No gender discrimination

The other Swedish study tested whether employers discriminated against women or men who have children. It was implemented in the same way, but with 2,144 fictive applications readied by researchers at Stockholm University.

The researchers found no clear gender discrimination of jobseekers based on gender or parenthood, neither of women with or without children nor men with or without children. The researchers did not factor in age in this study. It was based on initial responses from employers. 

The researchers point out that discrimination might still turn up later in the hiring process when applicants are summoned to interviews.

The findings contradict several earlier studies which revealed that mothers are less likely to get hired than childless women. Other studies show that both men and childless women are preferred to mothers.


Read the Norwegian version of this article at

Translated by: Glenn Ostling

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