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Study: 3 men, 3 ages, but only the oldest treated differently

A go-getter, competitive and assertive personality is one that employers value in the workplace, right? It might depend on the industry or the job position; that is true. According to a recent research study, it also depends on your age. The older someone is, the less assertive people expect them to be -- at least according to the study.

Behind every research study there is a problem to be solved or a hypothesis to be tested. In this case, it was both. Age discrimination in the workplace can be hard to define at times. It isn't always as clear as a racial slur or a sexual innuendo. The hypothesis was that people would respond to an elder individual differently than a younger person when the only variable was age. They were right.

Researchers controlled the experiment by giving three different men dressed exactly the same, the exact same script. The only thing different was that one man was 25, one was 45 and another was 75 years old. The three men told test subjects half of the time that they would be likely to share personal wealth with relatives, and the other half of the time the men told the subjects that they would not.

The tests subjects had no problem with either of the two comments when it was the younger two actors making them. However, the subjects felt strongly about the fact that the 75-year-old man said that he wouldn't share his wealth.

The point of this study was not to determine whether people care about how people want to conduct estate planning. It was to show that there often is a stigma, heightened expectations or discrimination against older employees in the workplace.

Even when an employee suspects that he or she suffered an adverse employment action based on age but does not know how to prove it, the employee should discuss the situation with an attorney.

Source: Star Tribune, "Researchers seek test for age discrimination in workplace," Michael Winerip, Aug. 3, 2013