Ageism in tech sector? Survey uncovers large age difference

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

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.