The tech industry is growing exponentially. In terms of profit, The Business Research Company found that the tech industry grew from $8,384.32 billion in 2021 to $9,358.51 billion in 2022.
Not only is tech a space that makes some of the most money, but to a lot of people, the sector symbolizes rapid growth, modern innovation, and a fundamental impact on society.
Therefore, it's no surprise the growth of the tech industry calls for a range of people to focus their careers on programming, coding, or engineering.
A range of people so varied that it even includes those who are classed as 'older adults.' Those who take on the challenge of learning to code relatively later in life, 40s/50s and 60s, eagerly embracing the challenge of a new start.
However, for people who have reached middle age, it can sometimes feel as though their chance for career opportunity has run out. Research shows that older workers are less likely to change their careers than younger working people, and those who do will worry about facing discrimination - but is there any truth to it?
Ageism in Tech? Here's what the Evidence says.
The aging of the workforce is a topic that has received a lot of attention in recent times. The World Health Organization predicts that individuals aged 60 and above will outnumber children under the age of five within the next year. The same sources predicts that the world's population of people, aged 60 years and older, will double (2.1 billion) by 2050.
Another remarkable fact is that by just 2025, 25% of workers in the United States and the United Kingdom will be over the age of 55. This group of workers is also the fastest growing in almost every country.
This general aging of our population has led to a surge in investments towards innovative Age-Tech start-ups. However, the tech industry does not have a proportionate representation of older workers, and the situation will continue to deteriorate over time.
What is Age-Tech? Age-friendly technology, also known as AgeTech, is digital technology designed specifically to meet the needs and preferences of older adults. It is developed with input from older adults themselves to ensure that it is user-friendly and addresses their specific needs and challenges. AgeTech can include a wide range of technology, from assistive devices for daily living to virtual socialization platforms, and its goal is to enhance the quality of life and independence of aging adults. AgeTech is an important aspect of addressing the needs of an aging population and promoting aging in place."
Demographic change is even a topic Elon Musk likes to wade in on!
So, despite an increasingly older work force, why is tech still considered a young person's game?
There is evidence to suggest that ageism is behind this.
For example, a study published in the journal "Work, Aging and Retirement" found that older job seekers in the tech industry were less likely to receive callbacks or job offers than younger candidates, even those with similar qualifications.
According to a survey of US startup founders conducted by venture-capital firm First Round Capital in 2018, 37% identified age as the strongest bias investors have towards new business founders. 28% cited gender and 26% cited race as other biases. Surprisingly, on average, founders think tech industry ageism starts at just 46 years old.
It's not just tech, an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) study found that for one in four of their surveyed older workers claimed that age-discrimination was the reason for their lack of work across all industries.
Whilst it may be more challenging for older individuals to in the tech industry as well as society in general, I did find a silver lining.
Times are changing
One of the primary reasons for the lack of tech workers over the age of 50 is due to societal biases regarding older individuals and technology. It is often mistakenly assumed that as people age, they become less capable of learning new technologies.
However, I argue that this is changing.
As older generations with lower levels of education retire from the workforce and younger generations with higher levels of education enter, the overall education level of the workforce improves over time. In 1999, 23% of the US population held a bachelor's degree and 4% held a master's degree. By 2015, these numbers had increased to 27% and 7%, respectively. While the pace of this growth may be slow, it has been consistent and can result in a significantly more educated workforce across all ages over the long term.
For adults, 40+, today, the old stereotypes simply no longer ring true. We are getting older but we are not the older people WE knew when WE were young. Even adults currently in their 60s grew up with exposure to early computers.
Take the example of the classic video game console, the Atari Video Computer System, which was released back in 1977. That's an entire 45 years ago at the time of writing!
Many middle-aged and older individuals also continue to seek out educational opportunities and acquire additional credentials throughout their lives. This can be driven by various factors such as the importance of higher education in today's job market, the availability of online education options, and societal expectations around learning and personal growth.
Simply put, you are not going face ageism in the same way you, yourself, may have witnessed ageism as a younger person. Being older today isn't the same as being older 20 years ago.
Remember when you were young and you thought your parents were old. It's funny how we don't feel as old now that we are our parents age.
There are many examples of famous individuals in their 60s and 70s are still actively engaged in their careers and have no plans to retire.
Examples of this, as of 2022, include Warren Buffett, who is 92 and widely regarded as one of the most brilliant minds in finance, as well as Charlie Munger, his 98-year-old right-hand man. Madonna, at 61, is a highly successful pop star. Tom Cruis is still an action hero at 60. Joe Biden was elected US president at 78.
There isn't a typical older person
One idea I appreciated from this WHO article is that biologically there isn't actually a typical older person. I have worked with 60+ year old coders that easily possessed the same physical and mental capacities of many of my younger peers.
It's important we don't correlate age and biology. In addition to our genetics and health choices, there are a multitude of other factors that contribute to the pace of aging including our physical and social environments, such as our homes, neighborhoods, and communities. as well as our socioeconomic status. These factors, particularly those experienced during childhood and development, can have long-term effects on the aging process.
Interesting! This study found that the process of aging begins in the womb, the researchers found that providing mothers with antioxidants during pregnancy meant that their offspring aged more slowly in adulthood. Other factors include the fetus getting plenty of oxygen, smoking and high altitude may impact there.
When we talk about ageism, we must be careful not to generalize.
My Anecdotal Experience
As a manager of a team of four developers, I had the opportunity to interview candidates to bring on another four team members. Two of these positions were for junior developers, so we received a lot of applications from individuals who were recent college graduates or had three years or less of experience in the field.
However, one of my favorite candidates was a gentleman in his late 40s who had recently decided to transition into a career in software development, despite having no prior experience in the field. I was impressed by his enthusiasm and willingness to learn, and I took a chance on him. I'm glad I did, because he ended up excelling in his role and making valuable contributions to the team."
Based on my observations and interactions with other managers, it seems that many of them share the same approach to hiring and evaluating candidates. They prioritize the candidate's fit within the team and their ability to perform the job, rather than considering demographic characteristics such as age or gender.
As a manager, our primary concern is finding the best candidate for the job, regardless of their personal characteristics.