Variables affecting the success of older applicants for employment in a public organization: an age-cued cognitive model of administrative decision making

Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration

First Advisor's Name

Howard Frank

Second Advisor's Name

Margaret Bull Kovera

Third Advisor's Name

Harvey Averch

Date of Defense



The dissertation takes a multivariate approach to answer the question of how applicant age, after controlling for other variables, affects employment success in a public organization. In addition to applicant age, there are five other categories of variables examined: organization/applicant variables describing the relationship of the applicant to the organization; organization/position variables describing the target position as it relates to the organization; episodic variables such as applicant age relative to the ages of competing applicants; economic variables relating to the salary needs of older applicants; and cognitive variables that may affect the decision maker's evaluation of the applicant.

An exploratory phase of research employs archival data from approximately 500 decisions made in the past three years to hire or promote applicants for positions in one public health administration organization. A logit regression model is employed to examine the probability that the variables modify the effect of applicant age on employment success. A confirmatory phase of the dissertation is a controlled experiment in which hiring decision makers from the same public organization perform a simulated hiring decision exercise to evaluate hypothetical applicants of similar qualifications but of different ages. The responses of the decision makers to a series of bipolar adjective scales add support to the cognitive component of the theoretical model of the hiring decision. A final section contains information gathered from interviews with key informants.

Applicant age has tended to have a curvilinear relationship with employment success. For some positions, the mean age of the applicants most likely to succeed varies with the values of the five groups of moderating variables. The research contributes not only to the practice of public personnel administration, but is useful in examining larger public policy issues associated with an aging workforce.



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