Does age discrimination exist? Not legally. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), passed in 1967 states, “It shall be unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual\’s age.”

There can be a gap between legality and reality, however. During 2006, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 13,569 charges of age discrimination. The average job search was 16 weeks for people under 55 years old, but 22 weeks for those over 55. Texas A&M Economics professor Joanna Lahey found that companies were more than 40 percent more likely to interview a younger job seeker rather than an older job seeker.

Some employers feel that older workers are more set in their ways, have less energy and more health problems, aren\’t as technologically savvy, require higher salaries, and won\’t work as hard or long as younger workers. Historically, the implicit agreement was that an employee would stay with one company throughout his or her work career, starting out at lower wages, but progressing to higher wages as he or she became older. This paradigm is no longer true. With people routinely changing jobs every several years, and younger workers wanting higher wages and more responsibility when they come on board, the old way is no longer the model.

Most experts are upbeat about the future of mature workers, however. With Baby Boomers (more than 76 million) retiring from primary careers, and fewer younger workers (48 million Gen Xers) to replace them, labor shortages will force companies to retain, retrain (if necessary), and value the older employee. For many employers, the bottom line will be whether an employee meets their company\’s needs; the experience, work ethic, and maturity of Boomers will become valuable commodities. (To file an age-discrimination complaint with the EEOC at either the state or federal level, call 800-669-4000).

Jan Cullinane is the co-author of The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (Rodale, 2007). She gives seminars on the (primarily) non-financial aspects of retirement through her company, "Retirement Living from A to Z."