Older workers face discrimination

Annual surveys carried out by Synovate for the Centre for Senior Policy since 2003 have revealed perceived age discrimination among older employees in Norway. The 2010 survey found that, although the prevalence of age discrimination is still lower than seven years ago, it increased in 2010 compared with 2009 for some unknown reason. Discrimination against older employees remains widespread in Norway, though older workers appear more welcome in the public sector.

Population ageing means that older workers will increasingly make up a larger proportion of the workforce. Age discrimination applies at different stages of working life from recruitment and development of the workforce, to retention and exit. It may also be institutionalised in the sense of early retirement schemes and upper age limits. Discrimination is seen in many forms and legislation distinguishes between direct and indirect discrimination.

Several studies (Parkins et al, 2006; Urwin, 2006; Furunes et al, 2008) have shown that age discrimination is a common problem in working life. This research found that age discrimination may result in negative feelings such as uselessness, powerlessness and lower self-esteem. A survey conducted by Synovate in 2010 on behalf of the Centre for Senior Policy (CSP) sheds more light on age discrimination in Norway today. This survey has been conducted annually since 2003.

About the survey

Synovate has developed comprehensive questionnaires for mapping the working environment, including features for identifying age discrimination such as:

  • promotion;
  • training;
  • career development;
  • development appraisals;
  • wage increases;
  • preference for younger workers when new technology or new ways of working are introduced to the workplace.

The 2010 survey was based on data from questionnaires completed by 1,001 people who had been employed for over 15 years and 750 managers in private and public enterprises.

Key findings

Trends in different kinds of age discrimination for the period 2006 to 2010 are shown in Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1: Experienced age discrimination at work, 2006–2010

Figure 1: Experienced age discrimination at work, 2006–2010

Source: Dalen, 2010

Figure 2: Experienced ‘very often, often or sometimes’ that older workers are:

Figure 2: Experienced ‘very often, often or sometimes’ that older workers are:

Source: Dalen, 2010

Although there is a decline in the number of respondents reporting to have experienced age discrimination ‘very often, often or sometimes’ between 2006 and 2009, an increase is evident between 2009 and 2010 (Figure 2). There is no obvious explanation for this increase.

In addition, 35% of the managers in the survey stated that that applicants needed to have at least 10 years left of their career before being deemed appropriate to be invited for a job interview. The average upper age for a manager to abstain from granting an interview was 57 years-old in 2008 compared to 55 years-old in 2005. While 41% of the managers in the private sector stated that applicants should have at least 10 years left of their career, only 13% of those in the public sector gave the same answer.

Older workers were perceived to be more welcome in the public sector. This may be partly explained by the domination of women in this sector as research has shown that female managers are generally less critical of older applicants than male managers (Furunes et al, forthcoming).

The CSP survey shows that discrimination against older people in the workplace is still prevalent in Norway. Although the trend seemed to be moving in a positive direction between 2009 and the first survey in 2003, it fell back in 2010.


Norway pioneered legislation in this area by including age discrimination paragraphs in the Working Environment Act in May 2004. Nevertheless, the results from the 2010 survey show that discrimination against older employees is still widespread in Norway. However, the prevalence of age discrimination is difficult to assess and is seen to show considerable variation depending on the formulation of the questions in surveys on this topic.


Dalen, E., Norsk seniorpolitisk Barometer. Yrkesaktiv befolkning 16.-26. august 2010 (190Kb PDF), Oslo, Synovate, 2010.

Furunes, T., Solem, P.E. and Mykletun, R., Age discrimination as a barrier to employment of older workers, Stavanger, University og Stavanger, 2008.

Parkins, I.S., Fishbein, H.D. and Ritchey, N.P., ‘The influence of personality on workplace bullying and discrimination’, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Vol. 36, No. 10, 2006, pp. 2554–2577.

Urwin, P., ‘Age discrimination: legislation and human capital accumulation’, Employee Relations, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2006, pp. 277–294.

Bjørn Tore Langeland, Department of Occupational Health Surveillance, National Institute of Occupational Health




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