Age Discrimination: Taking Years Off Your Life?

Age Discrimination
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Most people dream of retiring and look to retire as early as possible, although some people end up retiring before they are ready. One of the reasons for this is because they are victims of age discrimination at work.

Having to retire earlier than expected has several drawbacks. Tapping into a retirement nest egg earlier than expected means not allowing it to grow to its full potential. Then there is applying for Social Security benefits sooner rather than later, which can result in losing out on thousands of dollars.

Besides the various financial penalties of early retirement, are there any other disadvantages for retiring early? Many research studies suggest that those who retire early tend to live shorter lives. This means victims of age discrimination have more to think about than just lost earnings or punishing the wrongdoer.

Does Early Retirement Equate to an Early Death? It Is a Little More Complicated Than That

Is early retirement putting people in the grave earlier?

Over the last few decades, many studies have examined the effect retirement has on life expectancy. The studies are not unanimous in their conclusions, but the consensus in the findings is that those who retire earlier tend to live shorter and/or less healthy lives than those who retire later.

Why is this the case? Few, if any, of the studies can say definitively. This is because there are so many factors that can affect an individual’s life expectancy. These factors include diet, physical activity, stress level, family history, and environment, just to name a few.

And even when examining just the retirement factor and accounting for all other variables, it can still be hard to conclude that early retirement will result in a shorter life expectancy. For example, did the people retire because they wanted to or because they had to? And if they had to, was it because of their health, because their company made a business decision, or because they were the victim of workplace misconduct, such as age discrimination?

Early Retirement Studies

Despite the fact that many variables and factors can shorten or lengthen a person’s life expectancy, the overarching theme of retirement studies is that early retirement is connected with an earlier death. Let’s take a look at some of the studies that examine this phenomenon.

A study of Shell Oil employees found that workers who retired at 55 and were still alive 10 years later had a higher risk of death than workers who retired at 65. This difference existed even after factoring in the workers’ sex and socioeconomic status. However, workers who retired at 60 had similar mortality rates to those who retired at 65. This suggests that the extent of the early retirement may be an important variable, not just the fact that an earlier retirement took place.

A recent Oregon State University study found somewhat similar results. Healthy individuals who retired one year later had an 11% lower risk of death from all causes compared to healthy individuals who retired one year sooner. What made this study unique was that it reached this conclusion even after factoring in the health of the employee at the time of retirement.

A British study titled “Work Longer, Live Healthier” tried to explain why those who retire earlier may not live as long as their peers who worked later into life. The study’s researchers examined long-term statistical data and noticed that people were working longer before retiring yet living longer. One of the reasons for this trend was attributed to the fact that retirees had decreased physical and mental health. For example, retirement increased the chances of a retiree suffering from clinical depression by 40%.

Not all studies have uniformly concluded that retirement age affects life expectancy. Researchers in an Australian School of Business study aptly titled “Does Retirement Age Impact Mortality?” concluded that retirement age did not affect a worker’s life expectancy. Despite this finding, researchers also discovered that if retirement were forced on the individual, it adversely affected the individual’s life expectancy.

In age discrimination cases, what often occurs is a forced retirement. Even when the victims of age discrimination intend to continue working, due to circumstances beyond their control, they are effectively forced to retire. The next few sections take a look at why this is the case.

Victims of Age Discrimination Are Often at or Near Retirement Age

retireesAge discrimination tends to mostly affect older workers who are approaching retirement age. Whether this is because those approaching retirement age are somehow thought of as less desirable by their employers or because companies want to get rid of employees before their retirement benefits can fully vest, there is definitely a large number of age discrimination victims who are in their early to mid-60s.

Several recent cases in point:

  1. Grant v. The New York Times: Former employees of the New York Times have sued their former employer, alleging various forms of discrimination, including race, gender, and age discrimination. The two named plaintiffs and class representatives are Ernestine Grant and Marjorie Walker, both of whom are in their 60s and were “offered” a buyout; that is, they were asked to retire.
  2. Julianne Taaffe and Kathryn Moon’s lawsuit against Ohio State:  Taaffe and Moon, who are aged 60 and 65 respectively, taught English language skills to foreign students at Ohio State University. Over several years, they were subject to a pattern of discrimination based on their age. From unfounded negative performance reviews to being spoken of in a derogatory manner regarding their age, Taaffe and Moon claim they were victims of blatant age discrimination. They also witnessed younger and less experienced employees promoted over them. Having enough, both Taaffe and Moon retired before their retirement benefits could fully vest and filed their lawsuit against Ohio State University.
  3. Barbara Anderton’s lawsuit against Bass Underwriters: Barbara Anderton was a manager at Bass Underwriters with a strong performance record. However, when she was 61 years old, she was abruptly fired and replaced by a younger male employee. Anderton sued for age and gender discrimination and won a large jury verdict totaling $4.75 million.
  4. Roberts v. Women’s and Children’s Hospital: Cynthia Roberts worked as a nurse in the Post-Anesthetic Care Unit at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Missouri. During the course of her employment, Roberts was the recipient of disparaging remarks concerning her age and was ultimately fired when she was 60 years of age. After her termination, Roberts was replaced by a younger and less experienced nurse who was paid less.
  5. T.J. Simers’ lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times: T.J. Simers was a 63-year-old columnist who was fired because of his age and disability. After suffering a mini-stroke, T.J. Simers was fired, allegedly due to ethical violations and poor writing. Simers claims he was not fired for job-related reasons but rather because of his age and health. A jury agreed with Simers and granted him a sizable award of $7.13 million for lost wages and emotional pain and suffering. Those interested in learning more about T.J. Simers’s lawsuit can read our earlier blog post titled “Jury Awards $7.13 Million to Former L.A. Times Sports Writer Due to Age and Disability Discrimination.”

Workers Near Retirement Age Have More Trouble Finding Jobs

Not only have studies shown that earlier retirement is connected to earlier mortality, but studies have also shown that older workers have more trouble than younger workers in finding work.

In a large-scale field experiment conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Is it Harder for Older Workers to Find Jobs? New and Improved Evidence From a Field Experiment,” researchers looked to see how much discrimination existed in the job search market. They sent out thousands of fake résumés to various types of jobs and noted the percentage of job applications that received callbacks. The fake résumés were identical, except for certain characteristics, sjobsuch as name and graduation year.

The results showed that the job applications that implied the worker was older had a lower rate of callbacks. The lower rate of callbacks was further amplified if the job application indicated that the applicant was a woman. This study confirmed other studies and the general sentiment that older workers have more trouble finding jobs.

An AARP project titled “Staying Ahead of the Curve 2013: The AARP Work and Career Study” looked at the experiences and feelings of older workers aged 45 to 74. Among many other findings, the AARP study noted that 37% of older workers were not confident that they could find comparable work should they be fired. This was a 13% increase in the lack of confidence compared to the older workers’ feelings in 2007.

And, according to the US Government Accountability Office’s report “Unemployed Older Workers: Many Experience Challenges Regaining Employment and Face Reduced Retirement Security,” workers aged 55 and older were the least likely to find another job.

Older Workers Who Have Difficulty Finding Jobs Are Often Forced Into Retirement

With many age discrimination cases involving employees near or at retirement age, coupled with increased difficulty in older workers finding equivalent work once fired, many older workers suffering from age discrimination end up in what is essentially a forced retirement. And, if they do not retire, they are forced to take jobs that pay significantly less or that force them to relocate.

There are several reasons why people may choose to continue working instead of retire. It may be financial, because they want to postpone their Social Security benefits or because they desperately need the income. It may also be to keep busy and stay social.

Forced Retirement Resulting From Age Discrimination Can Lead to Premature Death

Admittedly, the above subtitle is bold, with no definitive, absolute, or universally accepted research to fully back it. However, based on the above-referenced studies and observations regarding age discrimination litigation, there is strong support for the conclusion that victims of age discrimination who are forced to retire are more likely to have their health and life expectancy suffer.

The most important question is why does forced or early retirement have a negative impact on lifespan? It is a generally accepted principle that isolation and feelings of loneliness can increase the chances of getting sick or dying. One study, titled “Social Isolation, Loneliness, and All-Cause Mortality in Older Men and Women,” went further and found that isolation alone, not necessarily coupled with feelings of loneliness, can result in a greater risk of illness and/or death.

Summing It Up

  • Studies show that early retirement, especially forced retirement, is detrimental to long-term health and can lead to an earlier death.
  • Many victims in age discrimination cases involve workers approaching retirement age.
  • Older workers and workers approaching retirement age have more difficulty finding work than younger workers.
  • Unable to find work, older workers approaching retirement age often accept an early retirement.
  • Therefore, those suffering from age discrimination may be at heightened risk for a shorter life expectancy.

One possible explanation as to why early retirement may cause an earlier death is because isolation and/or feelings of loneliness increase the risk of getting sick or dying.