Dissertation Abstracts

Age discrimination in personnel selection: A vignette study with HR managers in Austria

Author: Doerfler, Laura , laura.doerfler@fh-vie.ac.at
Department: Sociology
University: Vienna, Austria
Supervisor: Prof. Roland Verwiebe
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: age discrimination , personnel selection , vignette study
Areas of Research: Stratification , Organization


Many industrialized countries face a demographic change. Rising life expectancies together with declining birth rates constitute a great challenge for labour markets. Employers are confronted with an aging workforce as well as a substantial turnover due to baby boomers´ retirement. The potential of older employees will thus be increasingly valuable for organizations in the future; however, labour market opportunities of older workers are reported to be poorer than those of younger ones. These reduced chances of older workers might be due to true productivity differences, but might also be grounded in age discrimination. Despite anti-discrimination laws, age discrimination may nevertheless occur in more subtle forms that are hard to detect, such as in the stage of personnel recruitment.
In Europe, we know very little about attitudes of employers towards older workers and the factors that affect managers´ decisions to employ older workers. For German speaking countries, the topic of age discrimination has been widely neglected. This contrasts to extensive research on attitudes, stereotypes and discrimination of older workers in the Anglo-Saxon countries, dating back to the 1970s. The thesis aims to fill this research gap. To forecast future challenges for labour markets due to demographic change, it is important to understand the demand side of labour markets and employers judgements in personnel selection.
In this paper, we investigate age discrimination in personnel selection across different industries and positions in Austria. I apply the factorial survey approach (FSA), also called vignette study. This semi-experimental research method combines the advantages of both survey research and classical experiments. A vignette is a short description of a social situation or a person that consists of several characteristics (factors and their levels) which can be simultaneously manipulated. The experimental design takes on all possible combinations of factor levels across all factors. Such design allows studying the effect of each factor on the dependent variable, as well as the effects of interactions between factors on the response variable. The impact of each dimension on respondent’s judgement can be estimated accurately. To make it more specific, through a vignette design it is possible to investigate the solely effect of age on selection decisions, a factor that is usually confounded with other factors in reality. Respondents in this study are HR managers from large organizations in different branches in Austria. Instead of answering single items, they are confronted with scenarios of hypothetical applicants. Respondents are asked to state the hiring desirability for the respective job seeker. Following the eight vignettes per respondent, HR managers are requested to provide information about the organisational context. Multi-level analysis techniques are applied to analyse the vignette data.

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