Corporate Ageism: Examining the Impact of Mandatory Retirement Age Policies on US Board Members and CEOs

New York, NY – Former US Vice President Al Gore, 75, is resigning from Apple’s board due to the company’s age-based restrictions for its directors, sparking a discussion about ageism in Corporate America.

The question of whether age should be a disqualifier for corporate leaders over 65 arises. Even with the top 10 oldest CEOs of companies on the Russell 3000, ranging in age from 84 to 91 in 2022, they are all still on the job.

Mandatory retirement ages are more of an exception than a rule in Corporate America, and they don’t exist for US lawmakers or surgeons or many other jobs. But they do exist in a lot of public-safety occupations. Boards are most likely to have mandatory retirement age policies, with 69% of S&P 500 boards reporting having a mandatory retirement policy in 2023.

The majority of those with such policies, set the retirement age at 72 or higher. The need for board refreshment is ongoing, says Matteo Tonello, a managing director at The Conference Board, who advises members about governance issues.

There’s a debate over mandatory retirement ages for CEOs and other senior leaders, with some companies disregarding them when they want to keep someone on. For example, Target CEO Brian Cornell stayed on another three years after turning 63, and Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun’s mandatory retirement age was waived when he turned 64 during the company’s crisis.

Age discrimination laws generally protect rank-and-file employees, but there are exceptions for executives or high-level policymakers who meet certain criteria. The underlying reason for retirement age policies is often based on the assumption that someone older is not as qualified, competent, or productive.

Advocates for older workers, like the AARP, contend that all mandatory retirement ages should be eliminated, even for demanding jobs involving public safety, as numerous scientific and medical studies find no need for age-based discrimination.