July 2020

IZA DP No. 13506: Older Workers Need Not Apply? Ageist Language in Job Ads and Age Discrimination in Hiring

Ian Burn, Patrick Button, Luis Munguia Corella, David Neumark

We study the relationships between ageist stereotypes – as reflected in the language used in job ads – and age discrimination in hiring, exploiting the text of job ads and differences in callbacks to older and younger job applicants from a resume (correspondence study) field experiment (Neumark, Burn, and Button, 2019). Our analysis uses methods from computational linguistics and machine learning to directly identify, in a field-experiment setting, ageist stereotypes that underlie age discrimination in hiring. The methods we develop provide a framework for applied researchers analyzing textual data, highlighting the usefulness of various computer science techniques for empirical economics research. We find evidence that language related to stereotypes of older workers sometimes predicts discrimination against older workers. For men, our evidence points to age stereotypes about all three categories we consider – health, personality, and skill – predicting age discrimination, and for women, age stereotypes about personality. In general, the evidence is much stronger for men, and our results for men are quite consistent with the industrial psychology literature on age stereotypes.