Ageism in Effect: The Earnings Ceiling for Tech Professionals Over 40

New data shows that, as tech pros age, they earn more… but ageism starts to kick in when they’re around 40 years old, and there’s a distinct ceiling for earnings.

Calling ageism “a less talked about form of bias within tech,” Hired set out to highlight earnings by age category. As you can see in the chart below, there’s almost always a distinct gap between what tech pros want to earn and what they’re offered.

For the younger crowd, this is a positive: They are often offered more than they expect to earn. It’s not until a tech professional hits their late 30s that their expectations and offers align.

Curiously, this is also the pinnacle of earnings growth. In Hired’s findings, tech pros were never offered more than $149,000 annually. This plateau is reached at around age 40, though expectations continue to rise until tech professionals reach age 50.

This data dovetails with other studies. A 2018 survey from First Round Capital shows us startup founders think ageism in tech starts to kick in around age 36 (roughly the time Hired’s data shows salary expectations and offers start to go opposite directions). And according to the 2018 Dice Diversity and Inclusion Survey, tech pros feel ageism is prevalent in the industry: 29 percent of respondents reported “experiencing or witnessing” age-based discrimination in the workplace, outpacing gender discrimination (21 percent), political-affiliation discrimination (11 percent), and bias based on sexual orientation (six percent).

Our study also showed that, as tech professionals age, fear of ageism worsens:

The survey found those in their late 40s (ages 46 through 49, specifically) were particularly affected. Of this group, a staggering 80 percent say they’re concerned their age (and ageism attitudes) will affect their careers.

A ProPublica report from earlier this year provides insight into why older tech pros may not feel they’re worth as much. It found professionals over 50 were often forced out of their position, and faced longer layoffs. Even if they find new positions, only ten percent will earn as much as they did before losing their initial high-paying job (all of which may contribute to lowered expectations).

Hired’s datapoint is disparate from our own Salary Survey findings on earnings, but that’s not what we’re concerned about with this study. The trend-line showing tech professionals hit a ceiling for earnings is troubling. We’re also concerned older tech pros don’t feel as valued in the workforce, even if Hired’s data shows the offers they receive are better than expected.

16 Responses to “Ageism in Effect: The Earnings Ceiling for Tech Professionals Over 40”

  1. typelogic

    Alas! The main problem of analytics shit. The best companies and hiring recruiters knows better and that is why they win. To identify an edge is difficult to find, and is being pushed to the peripheries of the outer world. I know a guy he is 44 years old, single, has a 3D printer, never goes out from his basement, breaths in code, dreams in code, eats C/C++/Haskell/Rust/Python and dinners in wireshark with side dessert in raspberry pi and sub-gigahertz frequencies. Just like benecio del torro in the “The Hunted” – some men must be found. hehe

  2. Yes, definitely ageism is you stuck in the software development role which is supposed to be for the younger professionals (under 40). No, if you raised in ranks to tech management up to CTO, moved to say VCs or switched entirely into the management ranks. I work with the 50s and 60s years old successful managers/directors. Albeit in the public sector.

    • Michael

      “Yes, definitely ageism is you stuck in the software development role which is supposed to be for the younger professionals (under 40). No, if you raised in ranks to tech management up to CTO, moved to say VCs or switched entirely into the management ranks.”

      Management is not for everyone – some people enjoy the technical side and do not want to oversee budgets, hiring and other business side concerns. The technically minded do not see remaining in a s/w development role as being “stuck”. Some try management and dislike the role and want to move back to where they are productive and not just playing politics to keep their positions intact.

  3. William Anthony

    As an older tech worker with advanced degree in CS, I find the results true. This is the reason I am transitioning into the entertainment content field with the advantages of advanced media knowledge. Not only do I find the new career rewarding, but the compensation meets expectations. I would regard CS tech as a short-term career. This career path has a definite end at 45-50 years of age. A CS professional should plan on a major career change by age 45.

  4. JP Battaglia

    This is not good for me as I am a 47-year-old IT recent grad trying to transition into the tech field now. I knew it would be an uphill battle at this age but these statistics and comments are discouraging. I wasn’t ever able to get into an intern position during my time as a student which was not a big shocker but it seems my best route might be freelance and remote.

    • Kevin Bryant

      As always, keep positive and don’t let statistics discourage you. You had the tenacity to become a “recent grad” in the first place, that shows you are a person who proactively steers their own ship and makes their own opportunities. There are many IT/Tech employers who will find those qualities appealing. Good luck to you!

    • Bob Jones

      I got my first tech job at 57. I write code. Prior to that, I did freelance web-tech work for about 5 years. I have a GED and some college but no degree. The hunt might take a bit longer for older people but it’s not impossible. Pay? I’m on the 3rd percentile for people with my skill set.

  5. There is a reason that the largest demographic of people who are starting their own business are people over 50. They can’t get a job. And it isn’t just that they aren’t getting hired, it is that ATS systems are weeding them out. Therefore, they can’t get interviews. When they do get an interview, hiring managers are impressed with their vast knowledge and get sticker shock when they find out how much money the seasoned professional wants. So, they look for a 25 year old with 30 years of experience. A Unicorn per se. When they can’t find that, they hire the 25 year old because they cost less. What a vicious game.

  6. Don Councill

    I started when I was 28 and have a lifetime of training and experience. I was a manager of a database group for a large healthcare provider by the time I was 36 but opted out as I enjoy being closer to software architecture. I am now 52 and I am in good health. Due to my life long commitment to diet and exercise my brain is more agile and adaptive than ever. In my opinion cognitive decline due to age, and the general perception that it occurs belongs with mountains of misinformation that most people consider fact or rule. In the past several years I have been exposed to this “ageism” but I am perplexed as to why? Why would anyone or entity devalue what appears to be better is most every way? My answer? Ignorance. From the top? The fragile egos of managers who more than likely don’t have a clue as to what they are doing and do not feel comfortable having someone like me under them. From the bottom? Young people – children – driven more by ambition and self promotion than the simple directive of doing the absolute best you can – by all. I could go on but will just stop. The hearts and minds of mankind. That is the issue.

    • Larry Tessari

      When you are in your late 60’s or 70’s you run into the opposite effect. Age discrimintion is rampent in the tech industries. Salaries ramp downward very rapidly. I am in my 70’s and hiring managers want to pay less than $65,000 per year. Also, in the last several years, employers do not want to pay for training to learn to deal with the latest technology.

  7. I am not disputing that ageism exists in the workplace, but trying to correlate salary with ageism seems weak in my opinion. This article didn’t mention any assumptions or basis, so this is where I am going to tear it apart. The reason college grads in their early 20s are offered upwards of $115k is because companies assume they can work them 60-80 hours a week. That is why big companies like Google and Microsoft offer campuses with fun things to do. Depending on the hours worked for that salary, that would be like working 40 hours/week for $57k-$76k. If you are offered $150k salary, but are expected to work 60-80 hours/week, that would be like working 40 hours/week for $75k-$100k. People in their 30s, 40s, and beyond want to have families and a life and may not want to work 60-80 hours/week anymore. Of course the salary goes down overall but they may make more for every hour worked. At some point, making 90k working 40 hours a week looks more attractive than making $135k working 60 hour a week.

    • Annie Nonymous

      It’s worse than what is being told. Myself and 6 neighbors were laid off at or around age 50 from various companies. They don’t want to pay us what we are worth. Many companies are abusing the H1B visa program and hiring cheap labor mainly from India. Also outsourcing over seas. Verizon, who let me go after 27 years, built a building in India. It took me almost a year to find a job and got a salary 1/3 less than I was making. My new billion dollar banking company is being so cheap but they know they can get away with it. They too mostly hire Indians in IT and seem to abuse the H1B program. We need to start a Programmers Union.
      My bills have not gone back to 20 years ago like my salary. We are putting a drain on unemployment and not contributing to the economy and barely scrape by. Just when we need to save more for retirement or support kids in college (I am co-signor on their loans), or weddings, we get screwed on salaries. I may as well start a business or change careers. Almost regret my degree in Computer Science. I went to great schools and built a great career which used to mean something only to have the rug yanked out from under me by greedy companies that earn over 100B. Don’t forget the 15% corporate tax break putting an extra $10B in company coffers. Time for revolution.

      • Simone Noble

        This happened to me a year ago but I was working as an independent contractor. I’m sure I dont have to say how the Government contracts are overrun with H1B Visa holder from India. With my age (over 50) and being an independent contractor it 10 times worse when you are looking for a new contract. It took me 8 month after I lost my job to find a fulltime job that paid less than half what I was earning. All that time I was offered a tremendous amount less than I had previously earned for contracts. It was pretty blatant how they read your resume and figure your age and automatically offer you less.

  8. Richard Edwards

    I generally don’t comment on these articles simply because most of what I would love to say has already been said. There’s some room here on this one.

    In 1987, I purchased my first computer. By the time 1995 came around, we – us hardcore computer nuts – I say that lovingly – finally had something to start sinking our teeth into.
    At this point in time, being a baby boomer and ex-Vietnam Vet, even if I could get a job working IT, I was already 47.

    But I did get a job at Microsoft and worked technical support from 1996 to 2002, enjoyed every minute of it and would do it all over again. Except for one fact.

    No one does anything for free and technically, that’s exactly what everyone wants you to do these days in the IT sweat shops.

    Imagine, Bill Gates losing billions because the banks decided they wanted higher profits and then telling him he would have to live on social security because the banks have no moral obligation or respect for him to assure a retirement paycheck equal to his standard lifestyle.

    Now, that’s karma!