Research Powered by AI Shows Age Discrimination in Entrepreneurial Fundraising

by Michael Matthews, Aaron Anglin, Will Drover, and Marcus Wolfe

Research Powered by AI Shows Age Discrimination in Entrepreneurial Fundraising

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Research using AI demonstrates the dangers of bias.

As society continues to push for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion, age is one area that all too often remains overlooked. Across contexts—ranging from legal judgments1 to instructor2 ratings—research has shown that perceptions of age matter. In fact, a recent survey3 indicated that around one-third of U.S. workers have faced age discrimination, a shocking statistic considering the protections afforded by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. This bias represents a critical issue in an economy where the percentage of older workers is rising,4 including in innovation sectors. 

Related CMR Articles

Tambe, P., Cappelli, P., & Yakubovich, V. (2019). Artificial intelligence in human resources management: Challenges and a path forward. California Management Review, 61(4), 15-42.

Schroth, H. (2019). Are you ready for Gen Z in the workplace?. California Management Review, 61(3), 5-18.

Huang, M. H., Rust, R., & Maksimovic, V. (2019). The feeling economy: Managing in the next generation of artificial intelligence (AI). California Management Review, 61(4), 43-65.

We set out as a research team to study the impact of age bias in entrepreneurial fundraising. We adopted a novel approach by leveraging a new technique that harnesses artificial intelligence (AI).5 We took AI-generated photos and “transformed” them to be either younger or older, resulting in three “versions” of the same person, as shown in the images below. The advantage of this approach is that by using AI, we are able to artificially change an individual’s ages without introducing other factors that may influence any research findings. 

With these photos in place, we then recruited over 900 participants to evaluate a potential startup and displayed one of the photos below as the venture’s founder. 

Broadly speaking, our results6 demonstrate that age is not “just a number.” Rather, younger and older workers are penalized compared to their middle-aged peers. Drawing inspiration from our research, we outline three takeaways for forward-thinking professionals. Additionally, we highlight how our study fits into the broader domain of research on discrimination. 

1. Acknowledge that Ageism is Real

After viewing an entrepreneurial venture, we prompted individuals to indicate how much money they would be willing to invest in the startup. Our findings reveal that this relationship is curvilinear. That is, onlookers are willing to invest more money as the entrepreneur appears older, but at the tipping point of around 45 years old, the amount of funds that any one person is willing to contribute begins to taper off. Based on several factors, we estimated a potential decline in funding to be up to $17,343, a hefty price tag for not being the “right” age. 

Our research isn’t alone. In a study of over 700,000 individuals,7 scholars demonstrated a bias against older people. On the other side of the equation, younger adults may also experience age-related discrimination8 in professional contexts and be punished for appearing “too young.”9 Understanding this reality is especially important as Gen Z continues to enter the workforce.10 This age bias is costly to the economy, with some calculating the price of negative stereotypes against older workers to be around $63 billion11 in the United States alone. At the end of the day, the main takeaway for responsible business professionals is that age bias is happening to both younger and older workers. Acknowledging this reality is the first step toward lasting change. 

2. Take Action to Offset Age Bias

Clearly, ageism is unfair. Yet, to reduce discrimination, it becomes necessary to understand why workers are being penalized. By understanding the mechanisms, this empowers responsible individuals to act. In our study of entrepreneurs, we find (generally speaking) that perceptions of the founder’s intelligence, creativity, and experience account for the reason that younger and older entrepreneurs are seen as less favorable. In other words, people often assume that an individual is a certain way (e.g., less creative) based on that person’s demographic information (e.g., older worker). The prevalence of these types of stereotypes is perhaps part of the reason why some have observed12 that age bias is “one of the last socially acceptable prejudices.” 

For people experiencing age bias, there are steps you can take. Writing for the Washington Post, Danielle Abril offers the suggestion of emphasizing flexibility and willingness to learn, regardless of whether you are seen as “too young” or “too old.”13 Our findings add other potential solutions, such as accentuating creativity or, in some cases, displaying more energy. For those who are witnessing age bias, strive to present a more holistic picture of the person who is being treated unfairly. For example, prioritizing the insights of older workers can help combat ageism. By speaking up, you can ensure that toxic stereotypes don’t gain a foothold in your workplace.

3. Be Wary of Double-Pronged Bias

Our study included profile images of both male and female entrepreneurs, but we did not observe statistically significant differences between genders. Yet, it can be valuable to adopt a broader perspective when interpreting scientific findings. For example, other research14 suggests that perceptions of women face harsher penalties than men for aging. Similarly, a separate team of researchers sent over 40,000 applications and concluded that “women face worse age discrimination than men.”15

More work is needed to understand how age bias unfolds. An appropriate conclusion, however, is that decision-makers should be especially sensitive when multiple social identities (e.g., gender, race, social class, culture) intersect with age. It is not enough to address ageism as it relates to one social group (e.g., men) while ignoring how it may be even more vicious for another (e.g., women). Further, by being cognizant of multiple social identities, companies can reap more benefits associated with age diversity. For example, we know that management styles often vary by age,16 which can be an advantage if approached correctly.

At the end of the day, everyone will be vulnerable—at one point in their careers—to being seen as “too young” or “too old.” A simple fact of life is that our age changes, but we shouldn’t be penalized for this biological process. Instead, as each of us experiences (or anticipates) aging, this should endow us with empathy and resolve to oppose age discrimination in the workforce. 


  1. Doerner, J. K., & Demuth, S. (2010). The independent and joint effects of race/ethnicity, gender, and age on sentencing outcomes in US federal courts. Justice Quarterly, 27(1), 1-27. DOI: 
  2. Doubleday, A. F., & Lee, L. M. (2016). Dissecting the voice: Health professions students’ perceptions of instructor age and gender in an online environment and the impact on evaluations for faculty. Anatomical Sciences Education, 9(6), 537-544. DOI: 
  3. (2023, May 11). New SHRM Research Details Age Discrimination in the Workplace. SHRM. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from 
  4. James, E., & Wooten, L. P. (2022, September 20). Here’s what an aging workforce means for America’s employers. Fortune. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from 
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  6. Matthews, M. J., Anglin, A. H., Drover, W., & Wolfe, M. T. (2024). Just a number? Using artificial intelligence to explore perceived founder age in entrepreneurial fundraising. Journal of Business Venturing, 39(1), 106361. DOI: 
  7. Chopik, W. J., & Giasson, H. L. (2017). Age differences in explicit and implicit age attitudes across the life span. The Gerontologist, 57(suppl_2), S169-S177. DOI: 
  8. Morgan, K. (2021, August 5). The ‘acute’ ageism problem hurting young workers. BBC. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from 
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  10. Schroth, H. (2019). Are you ready for Gen Z in the workplace?. California Management Review, 61(3), 5-18. DOI: 
  11. Greenwood, M. (2018, November 13). Health costs of ageism calculated at $63 billion annually, study finds. Yale News. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from
  12. Weir, K. (2023, March 1). Ageism is one of the last socially acceptable prejudices. Psychologists are working to change that. American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from
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  14. Chatman, J. A., Sharps, D., Mishra, S., Kray, L. J., & North, M. S. (2022). Agentic but not warm: Age-gender interactions and the consequences of stereotype incongruity perceptions for middle-aged professional women. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 173, 104190. DOI: 
  15. Neumark, D., Burn, I., & Button, P. (2017, February 27). Age Discrimination and Hiring of Older Workers. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from
  16. Birkinshaw, J., Manktelow, J., D’Amato, V., Tosca, E., & Macchi, F. (2019, May 28). Older and Wiser? How Management Style Varies With Age. MIT Sloan Management Review. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from

Michael Matthews
Michael Matthews Michael Matthews is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oklahoma and will be teaching at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley as an Assistant Professor in the Fall of 2024. His research focuses on leadership, social comparisons, and employee wellbeing.
Aaron Anglin
Aaron Anglin Aaron Anglin is an Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Texas Christian University. His research examines issues surrounding novel forms of new venture finance, such as crowdfunding and microfinance, using psychological perspectives as well as social entrepreneurship, content analytic methods, and facial recognition analysis.
Will Drover
Will Drover Will Drover is the Chair of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Texas Christian University. Dr. Drover specializes in new venture finance, serving as an educator, researcher, investor, and consultant.
Marcus Wolfe
Marcus Wolfe Marcus Wolfe is the G. Brint Ryan Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of North Texas. His research focuses on cognition and decision making at all stages of the entrepreneurial process, the potential clinical and biological factors that influence entrepreneurial health and well-being, as well as emotions and entrepreneurial failure.


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