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Survey: Age bias seen by over-45 techies

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More than two-thirds of tech professionals over the age of 45 say age discrimination is a "significant problem" in the industry, according to a survey by IT industry jobs Web site techies.com.

But discrimination hits both ends: nearly 75% of tech workers ages 18 to 34 said younger workers are just as likely to be targeted as older workers.

Conducted in January 2001, the techies.com survey involved 1,027 tech industry workers ranging in age from 18 to over 55. Overall, 40% of the survey's respondents felt that age discrimination is a pervasive and significant problem in the IT industry. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed said they had witnessed or experienced an office incident of age bias.

Asked for specific examples, most respondents didn't cite any. Those incidents respondents did report largely concerned hiring, promotions, and compensation. Among the youngest group of tech workers surveyed, those ages 18 to 24, one in eight said they'd been denied an expected bonus or raise within the past year -- and roughly 40% said their youth was a contributing factor.

At the other end of the career path, one in four tech workers between 55 and 64 said they had been denied a job for which they were well qualified. Nearly 60% said that being older than the boss or coworker involved was a contributing factor.

The survey glancingly touched on the thorny issue of whether a gap exists in IT salaries between younger and older workers. Younger workers were six times as likely as older workers to maintain that older workers almost always make more money than younger ones, while those aged 55 and older said that management's reluctance to promote older workers contributes to the salary gap. Another factor cited by older workers: The idea that older workers are often most familiar with outdated, low-demand technologies.

The issue of age discrimination in the tech industry attracted the U.S. Department of Commerce's attention recently, at the peak of the dot-com boom. In a June report titled "The Digital Work Force: Building Infotech Skills at the Speed of Innovation," the DOC found "numerous anecdotes of middle-age technical workers having difficulty finding IT jobs."

Noting that nearly 80% of computer programmers are under the age of 45, the DOC report speculated on several potential reasons for the industry's tilt toward young workers. The IT industry's notoriously long (and family-unfriendly) hours, the perception that older workers may not be familiar with current technologies, and employers' fears that more experienced workers will be more expensive than younger ones were all cited as factors.

The DOC urged employers to look beyond myths and ages, pointing out that "many mid-career workers have a breadth of experience that could benefit many young IT companies." But experience may not be the most valuable asset to employers, according to a May 1999 InformationWeek survey of IT managers. Asked which potential employee they would most likely hire, only 2% of respondents favored candidates with more than 10 years of experience. The managers overwhelmingly preferred more junior workers, with 46% saying they would prefer a candidate with four to 10 years of experience, and 52% split evenly between preferring entry-level workers and those with less than three years' experience.

The IDG News Service is a Network World affiliate.

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