Too Old To Earn Big In IT? - InformationWeek
IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
09:06 AM
Susan Nunziata
Susan Nunziata

Too Old To Earn Big In IT?

If you're feeling like your IT career has passed its 'sell by' date, you're not alone, according to the results of our latest flash poll.

When we asked in a recent flash poll if you've witnessed age discrimination in IT, we never imagined that nearly 70% of you would respond with a resounding "Yes."

In the poll, "Has Your IT Career Passed Its 'Sell By' Date?," conducted between June 23 and July 1, 40.62% of the 901 respondents said they've seen age discrimination in IT. Another 29.19% said they've been victims of it. Only 30.19% of poll respondents said they haven't witnessed age discrimination in IT.

Before we delve into this topic, let's define age discrimination.

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "Age discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) less favorably because of his age." (For more on age discrimination laws outside the US, click here.)

The US federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to people age 40 or older. Those younger than 40 aren't protected by federal age discrimination law, though state laws vary. The federal law "forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment." It's also illegal to harass someone age 40 or older because of his or her age, according to the EEOC, which clarifies:

Although the law doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren't very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Let's look at our flash poll responses again in light of those definitions of age discrimination: 263 of the respondents said that not only have they witnessed age discrimination IT, they have experienced it firsthand.

How is age discrimination manifesting itself in IT?

The 2014 InformationWeek Salary Survey, which received more than 11,000 responses from IT staffers and managers, shows that median base IT salaries peak at around age 46 before flattening out for staffers and declining 3.36% for managers.

Table 1: What is your annual base salary?

Age Range IT Staff % Change from Prior Age Range IT Management % Change from Prior Age Range
25 or younger $57,000 N/A $58,000 N/A
26-35 $73,000 +28.07% $92,000 +58.62%
36-45 $88,000 +20.55% $112,000 +21.74%
46-55 $93,000 +5.68% $119,000 +6.25%
Over 55 $94,000 +1.07% $115,000 (-3.36%)
Base: 5,945 IT staff and 5,717 IT managers. Source: InformationWeek 2014 US IT Salary Survey, February 2014.

We already know that plenty of you are dissatisfied with your salary. Can we view the above salary plateau as an indication of ageism in IT, and yet another reason to be unhappy with your compensation? Are the steep increases in compensation early in one's earning years a normal part of the career trajectory? Should we accept that these increases ought to get smaller as one grows older and climbs the career ladder, simply because it's financially impossible for an organization not to contain salaries to a certain level overall?

The flattening of salaries by age range maps to national data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In first quarter 2014, the BLS reports, median weekly salaries for those age 25 to 34 was $727 ($37,804 a year), increasing 22.5% to $891 ($46,332 a year) for those age 35 to 44 before leveling off in the $800-to-$900-a-week range for those age 45 and older.

Is lack of job movement partly to blame for the flattening of salaries as one ages? IT staffers responding to the InformationWeek 2014 Salary Survey report a median of 18 years in the field, while IT managers report a median of 20 years. IT staffers report being in their current positions for a median of seven years; managers, a median of eight years. One third of staffers (66%) and nearly three quarters of managers (74%) say they've worked at only one or two companies in the past 10 years.

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Susan Nunziata leads the site's content team and contributors to guide topics, direct strategies, and pursue new ideas, all in the interest of sharing practicable insights with our community.Nunziata was most recently Director of Editorial for, a UBM ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 11:43:17 AM
The ADEA field of dreams
Here's a test. Go back to 1999 and take a look at the number of IT professionals 45 years old or older.   Now go to 2010 and tell me how many of those same individuals where still in the IT field.   I'm betting the majority where not and those that still were had career slumps.  This at a time when the labor department predicted high demand and still does.  Beginning in the mid-1990s IBM started firing employees age 50 and up.  These employees (about 50,000) filed a class action lawsuit against IBM.  The case went to the US Supreme Court where they found in favor of IBM.  The judges ruled that as long as all employees 50 and up were being treated the same there was no violation of ADEA.  In 2001 IBM again fired older workers but this time used the age of 40  and up (about 20,000) and again a class action suit was filed and again the Supreme Court found in IBM's favor.  The 1967 ADEA law isn't worth the paper it's printed on according to the Supreme Court.
Number 6
Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
7/7/2014 | 11:14:36 AM
Tw o Comments
1- The BLS statistics on unemployment are for the general population, not IT. I'd bet the IT rates would be higher at older ages.

2- Age discrimination is rampant but difficult to prove in court short of a smoking gun memo. H.R. departments are always careful to say it's a skills issue, not your age, even if it isn't.
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