Ageism in tech sector? Survey uncovers large age difference

Ageism in tech sector? Survey uncovers large age difference

Summary: The median age of workers at tech companies can be more than 16 years below the national average.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

Quentin Hardy on The New York Times Bits column has reported that a survey of tech companies by Payscale shows a very young median age compared with the overall US average age of 42.3 years. In Technology Workers Are Young (Really Young), he said:

Just six of the 32 companies it looked at had a median age greater than 35 years old. Eight of the companies, the study said, had median employee age of 30 or younger. Women were generally less than 30 percent of the workforce, and in fields like semiconductors, represented much less than that...

The company with the oldest workers on the PayScale list, Hewlett-Packard, came in at 41 years.

The other five companies with older workers, in descending order of median age, were IBM Global Services (38 years old), Oracle (38), Nokia (36), Dell (37), and Sony (36).

The seven companies with the youngest workers, ranked from youngest to highest in median age, were Epic Games (26); Facebook (28); Zynga (28); Google (29); and AOL, Blizzard Entertainment, InfoSys, and (all 30). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only shoe stores and restaurants have workers with a median age less than 30.

Median age means that an equal number of workers are above and below the figure.

Foremski's take

Surveys of the age of workers are simply that: Age. They are not a measure of the abilities and skills of the workers. You'd need to map salaries and qualifications against any age survey to see what's really going on inside these companies.

Older workers, especially in Silicon Valley, often feel that there is "ageism" in hiring practices. But it's more likely part of an unstoppable trend that is purely focused on costs.

I would bet that that these companies are skewing toward younger workers because they are simply less expensive. Do those younger workers know more? Are they more skilful? More productive? They are certainly cheaper, and that means they are more productive as measured per salary dollar.

Today's businesses, especially our high-tech firms, get a lot more done using far less skilled labor thanks to ever more sophisticated development systems and tools.

Unequal sharing in the fruits of technology

This is at the heart of the "middle class" decline. The benefits of our powerful, ever more productive technologies are not being shared equally by society. It's not the inequality of money — that's simply a proxy for the fact that there is an unequal distribution of the productive benefits of our technologies. Jobs aren't coming back.

It's not the business of companies to bring back jobs, but to eliminate as many as they can from their own books because it is their single largest, variable cost of business.

New jobs will arise, but we don't need everyone employed. What's the point of our incredible productive technologies, manufacturing scale, etc, if they require more workers than less? That's not the way the world works.

Over the next 10 years or so, we need to have a new language, a new culture, a new metric to GDP, to deal with a society in which for the vast majority of the population, their experience will be of a world without work.

A world without work is both exciting and scary. It could become a golden age or incredibly miserable, but we have that choice and we need to start thinking about it now. The arrow of time is relentless; it marches us into the future, whether we like it or not.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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  • Value depends on the particular sub-field

    I consult at times helping people find qualified canidates for device driver development. I rarely see a US college grad from the last 8 years who is worth even considering. Many of them know less about operatiing systems than the typical hardware designer of 30 years ago, who I would not have wanted to program "hello world".

    But I know of a lot of fimrs (a few I have done this consulting for) that don't want people over 35 for these positions, which is part of the reason that system reliability is dropping. Ageism is there, and it in many cases has little to do with knowledge.
  • Just comparing the age of the companies is a metric to consider

    Highest median age of employee equates very closely to the lifetime of the company. One could expect that a Company built by teenagers (or young 20's) within the last 15 years would employ younger staff, so they would be unlikely to be much older than 40 now.

    Dell, IBM, HP would all have had the same demographic when they started out, but being over 30 years in existence those 20 and 30 year olds are now my age (not saying).
  • I view this as extremely troubling

    a world without work is a world in which some people don't get paid - let's be honest. And nobody is willing to have so broad a social safety network that a large proportion of the population can get by not working.

    As to the idea that tech can only get by if its got young, poorly paid people, I don't buy it. Everything old is new again, and the older people who've been through every changed trend in tech are like the grizzled Warrant Officers and Colonels in the Armed Forces... they've seen it before, they know how to handle it when it comes, and they're ready and willing to share their knowledge with the newer workers.
  • This is insane...

    "A world without work" was a utopian vision of certain early Marxists/Anarchists who felt that the rise of mechanized production would eventually give way to a world which was dominated by leisure, as human beings were rendered largely irrelevant to the economy and production. Now, personally, I think that such a world might be un-desirable for a number of reasons, but quite apart from that, I simply don't see how we, as a society, get to the point where we're OK with the wealth that is generated from economic production being distributed to those who have no part in that production. If anything, our society has been moving in the opposite direction, with wealth being concentrated in even fewer hands, even as those who do work, find that they are toiling harder for a smaller share of the economic pie. The normative American ideology is largely a selfish one that sneers at the thought of aiding the unproductive classes, so a society in which vast numbers of people are unemployed and unemployable strikes me as a recipe for terrible social unrest.
    • blame the companies that automate or offshore

      Since they are the real marxxists. And for all the talk people make about "terrible social unrest", those saying it don't seem to care.