DEMOGRAPHIC ASPECTS OF HEARING IMPAIRMENT:
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Third Edition, 1994

Judith Holt
Sue Hotto
Kevin Cole

Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies
Gallaudet University

  1. How many persons are deaf or hard-of-hearing in the U.S.?

  2. Are state and local estimates of the deaf and hard-of-hearing population available?

  3. Of the estimated 20 million persons with hearing impairment in the U.S., how many are considered to be deaf?

  4. What is the age distribution of the deaf population?

  5. Are males or females more likely to have hearing impairment?

  6. Which racial or ethnic groups are more likely to have hearing impairment?

  7. Is there a difference in prevalence of hearing impairment by level of education?

  8. Is there a difference in prevalence of hearing impairment by family income?

  9. Is there a difference in prevalence of hearing impairment by size of community?

  10. What is the number of deaf and hard-of-hearing adults in the labor force?

  11. What is the age at onset of hearing loss for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons?

  12. What are the leading causes of hearing loss for deaf and hard-of-hearing adults?

  13. What are the leading causes of hearing loss for deaf and hard-of-hearing students?

  14. How has the cause of hearing loss for deaf and hard-of-hearing students changed in the last 10 years?

Related Literature

  1. How many persons are deaf or hard-of-hearing in the U.S.?

    The deaf or hard-of-hearing population is estimated by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to their 1990 and 1991 Health Interview Surveys, approximately 20 million persons, or 8.6 percent of the total U.S. population 3 years and older, were reported to have hearing problems (Table 1).
    Table 1: Estimate of the Prevalence of Hearing Impairments by Age Group, United States, 1990-91.
    Age Group Population Number of
    hearing impaired
    Percent of
    population
    TOTAL 235,688,000 20,295,000 8.6%
    3-17 years 53,327,000 968,000 1.8%
    18-34 years 67,414,000 2,309,000 3.4%
    35-44 years 38,019,000 2,380,000 6.3%
    45-54 years 25,668,000 2,634,000 10.3%
    55-64 years 21,217,000 3,275,000 15.4%
    65 years & older 30,043,000 8,729,000 29.1%
    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Table 1, 1994.
    The elderly were more likely than any other age group to have hearing problems (Figure 1). Persons 65 years and older are eight times more likely to have hearing impairment than persons ages 18-34 (i.e., 3.4 percent of the population ages 18-34 have hearing impairment, compared to 29.1 percent of the population 65 and older).

    Note: NCHS does not collect data on persons under 3 years of age.

    [Figure 1: Estimate of the prevalence of hearing impairments
by age group, United States, 1990-91]

    Although not as detailed as some of the information here, a more current estimate (2004) can be found under the article How many deaf people are there in the United States?

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  2. Are state and local estimates of the deaf and hard-of-hearing population available?

    State and local estimates are not available at this time because sample households in the national surveys are not selected to be representative of states and localities. This is unfortunate, since the allocation of resources and administration of services for this population are generally at the state and local level.

    The U.S. Bureau of the Census has not included a question on hearing impairment since 1930, and no plans have been announced to include a question in the year 2000. However, beginning in 1995, the National Center for Health Statistics plans to change the sampling strategy for the Health Interview Survey to allow some state and regional estimates.

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  3. Of the estimated 20 million persons with hearing impairment in the U.S., how many are considered to be deaf?

    Since there is no legal definition of deafness comparable to the legal definition of blindness, 'deaf' and 'deafness' can have a variety of meanings. Table 2 gives the prevalence of deafness based on three possible descriptions. For example, if deafness is described as the "inability to hear and understand any speech," there are approximately 550 thousand deaf persons in the U.S. (1/4 of one percent of the U.S. population).
    Table 2: Estimate of the prevalence of Deafness, by Three Possible Descriptions, United States, 1990-91.
    Description Estimated
    number
    Percent of
    population
    Deaf, both ears 421,000 0.18%
    Cannot hear & understand any speech 552,000 0.23%
    At best, can hear & understand words shouted in the better ear 1,152,000 0.49%
    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Tables 1, B, C, 1994.
    Although not as detailed as some of the information here, a more current estimate (2004) can be found under the article How many deaf people are there in the United States?

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  4. What is the age distribution of the deaf population?

    The only age distribution of deafness available is for the population of persons who, at best, can hear and understand words shouted in the better ear (Table 3). By other descriptions of deafness, the total deaf population is too small to obtain a valid estimate of the age distribution.
    Table 3: Estimate of the Prevalence of Deafness* by Age Group, United States, 1990-91.
    Age Group Population Number with
    Deafness
    Percent of
    population
    TOTAL 235,688,000 1,152,000 0.49%
    3-17 years 53,327,000 52,000 0.10%
    18-44 years 105,433,000 128,000 0.12%
    45-64 years 46,885,000 228,000 0.49%
    65 years & older 30,043,000 744,000 2.48%
    * At best, can hear and understand words shouted in the better ear.

    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Table 1, 1994.
    Deafness, like all hearing impairment, is more prevalent among the elderly. Approximately .1 percent of the population under 45 years of age are deaf, compared to 2.5 percent of the population aged 65 and older.

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  5. Are males or females more likely to have hearing impairment?

    The prevalence of hearing impairment differs according to gender (Table 4). The overall prevalence is 10.5 percent for males and 6.8 percent for females. While males at all ages are more likely than females to be deaf or hard-of-hearing, the gap widens after age 18 (Figure 2).
    Table 4: Estimate of the Prevalence of Hearing Impairments by Age Group and Gender, United States, 1990-91.
    Age Group Male Female*
    TOTAL 12,002,000 8,293,000
    3-17 years 541,000 427,000
    18-44 years 3,018,000 1,672,000
    45-64 years 3,946,000 1,963,000
    65 years & older 4,497,000 4,232,000
    * Due to rounding, the numbers in this column do not sum.

    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Table 1, 1994.
    [Figure 2: Estimate of the prevalence of hearing impairments
by age group and gender, United States, 1990-91]

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  6. Which racial or ethnic groups are more likely to have hearing impairment?

    Whites are more than twice as likely as Blacks to be deaf or hard-of- hearing (Table 5). The overall prevalence is 9.4 percent for whites, compared to 4.2 percent for Blacks.
    Table 5: Estimate of the Prevalence of Hearing Impairments by Age Group and Race, United States, 1990-91.
    Age Group White Population Prevalence of HI*
    White Population
    Black Population Prevalence of HI*
    Black Population
    TOTAL 198,276,000 9.4% 28,753,000 4.2%
    3-17 years 42,906,000 1.9% 8,336,000 1.2%
    18-44 years 87,878,000 4.9% 13,057,000 2.1%
    45-64 years 40,492,000 13.4% 4,825,000 7.2%
    65 years & older 27,000,000 30.1% 2,535,000 18.7%
    * Hearing Impairment

    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Table 2, 1994.
    Non-Hispanics are also more than twice as likely as Hispanics to be deaf or hard-of-hearing (Table 6). The overall prevalence is 9.1 percent for non- Hispanics and 4.2 percent for Hispanics.
    Table 6: Estimate of the Prevalence of Hearing Impairments by Age Group and Ethnicity, United States, 1990-91.
    Age Group Non-Hispanic
    Population
    Prevalence of HI
    Non-Hispanic
    Population
    Hispanic
    Population
    Prevalence of HI
    Hispanic
    Population
    TOTAL 211,712,000 9.1% 21,981,000 4.2%
    3-17 years 45,495,000 1.8% 7,157,000 2.0%
    18-44 years 93,786,000 4.6% 10,921,000 2.9%
    45-64 years 43,631,000 13.0% 2,878,000 8.4%
    65 years & older 28,800,000 29.5% 1,025,000 22.0%
    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Table 3, 1994.
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  7. Is there a difference in prevalence of hearing impairment by level of education?

    In the adult population, the prevalence of hearing impairment is greater for those who are not high school graduates (i.e., have less than 12 years' education) than for high school graduates (Table 7).
    Table 7: Estimate of the Prevalence of Hearing Impairments in the Adult Population by Age Group and Years of Education, United States, 1990-91.
    Age Group Total Adult
    Population
    w/ <12 years
    of education
    Prevalence of
    HI Population
    w/ <12 years
    of education
    Total Adult
    Population
    w/ 12+ years
    of education
    Prevalence of
    HI Population
    w/ 12+ years
    of education
    TOTAL 38,184,000 16.6% 142,161,000 9.0%
    18-44 years 15,517,000 5.1% 89,058,000 4.3%
    45-64 years 10,413,000 15.4% 35,855,000 11.9%
    65 years & older 12,254,000 32.2% 17,248,000 27.2%
    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Table 7, 1994.

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  8. Is there a difference in prevalence of hearing impairment by family income?

    The prevalence of hearing impairment at all ages decreases as family income increases (Table 8). Overall, those with a family income of less than $10,000 are twice as likely as those with a family income of $50,000 and over to have hearing impairment.
    Table 8: Estimate of the Prevalence of Hearing Impairments by Age Group and Family Income, United States, 1990-91.
    Age Group < $10,000 $10,000 - $24,999 $25,000 - $49,999 $50,000 & over
    TOTAL 22,630,000
    (12.4%)
    54,502,000
    (10.7%)
    70,354,000
    (7.3%)
    47,328,000
    (6.1%)
    3-17 years 5,320,000
    (2.7%)
    12,263,000
    (2.3%)
    17,297,000
    (1.7%)
    10,773,000
    (1.5%)
    18-44 years 9,353,000
    (5.6%)
    23,068,000
    (5.1%)
    34,737,000
    (4.7%)
    22,171,000
    (3.7%)
    45-64 years 3,057,000
    (19.1%)
    8,997,000
    (14.6%)
    13,130,000
    (13.3%)
    12,181,000
    (10.9%)
    65 years & older 4,900,000
    (31.8%)
    10,174,000
    (30.1%)
    5,190,000
    (28.8%)
    2,203,000
    (26.2%)
    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Table 4, 1994.

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  9. Is there a difference in prevalence of hearing impairment by size of community?

    The prevalence of hearing impairment is greater at all ages among the population living in rural areas (Table 9). Rural areas are defined as those outside a metropolitan statistical area (MSA). An MSA consists of a city having a population of 50,000 or more plus adjacent areas that are metropolitan in character and are economically and socially integrated with the central city.
    Table 9: Estimate of the Prevalence of Hearing Impairments by Age Group and Size of Community, United States, 1990-91.
    Age Group Population
    Living Inside
    an MSA
    Prevalence of
    HI Inside
    an MSA
    Population
    Living Outside
    an MSA
    Prevalence of
    HI Outside
    an MSA
    TOTAL 184,112,000 7.9% 51,576,000 11.1%
    3-17 years 41,255,000 1.8% 12,072,000 2.0%
    18-44 years 84,505,000 4.2% 20,929,000 5.5%
    45-64 years 36,313,000 11.8% 10,571,000 15.4%
    65 years & older 22,039,000 27.4% 8,004,000 33.7%
    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Table 9, 1994.

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  10. What is the number of deaf and hard-of-hearing adults in the labor force?

    Table 10 lists the labor force status of deaf and hard-of-hearing adults. Of the approximately 8 million deaf and hard-of-hearing adults who were employed at the time of the survey, 29% listed their occupation as "professional and managerial," 34% listed it as "sales, service, and administrative support," and 37% listed it as "other."
    Table 10: Estimate of Labor Force Participation of Adult Population Who Have Hearing Impairments by Age Group, United States, 1990-91 (N=19,327,000).
    Age Group Percent
    Employed
    Percent
    Unemployed
    Percent Not in
    Labor Force
    TOTAL
    TOTAL 43.7% 2.2% 54.1% 100%
    18-44 years 78.7% 4.8% 16.5% 100%
    45-64 years 63.8% 2.9% 33.3% 100%
    65 years & older 11.4% 0.4% 88.2% 100%
    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Table 5, 1994.

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  11. What is the age at onset of hearing loss for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons?

    Of the estimated 20 million deaf and hard-of-hearing persons in the U.S., approximately 3 out of every 4 persons had onset of hearing loss after age 18 (Table 11). Less than 1 in 5 reported they had prevocational hearing loss (i.e. onset before 19 years of age). Approximately 5% reported prelingual loss (i.e., onset before 3 years of age).
    Table 11: Age at Onset of Hearing Loss for the Estimated Population of Hearing Impaired Persons in the United States, 1990-91.
    Age at Onset Number Percent
    Before 3 years 1,091,000 5.4%
    3-18 years 2,876,000 14.2%
    19 years and over 15,484,000 76.3%
    Unknown 844,000 4.1%
    TOTAL 20,295,000 100.0%
    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Table 13, 1994.

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  12. What are the leading causes of hearing loss for deaf and hard-of-hearing adults?

    Of the estimated 19 million deaf and hard-of-hearing adults in the U.S., 33.7% report that their loss is due to some sort of noise (Table 12). Another 28% report that their loss is due to age, while 17.1% report that it is due to infection or injury. Only 4.4% report the presence of hearing loss at birth.
    Table 12: Reported Etiology of Hearing Loss in the Adult Population, United States, 1990-91 (N=19,327,000).
    Cause of Hearing Loss Percent Due to Cause
    At birth 4.4%
    Ear infection 12.2%
    Ear injury 4.9%
    Loud brief noise 10.3%
    Other noise 23.4%
    Getting older 28.0%
    Other 16.8%
    TOTAL 100.0%
    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Data from the National Interview Survey,
    Series 10, Number 188, Table 13, 1994.

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  13. What are the leading causes of hearing loss for deaf and hard-of-hearing students?

    Etiology information is available for approximately one-half of the students reported to the 1992-93 Annual Survey of Hearing Impaired Children and Youth, conducted by the Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies. It is estimated that this survey represents 60-65% of the population of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the U.S. who receive special education services.

    As shown in Table 13, heredity, at 13%, is the leading known cause of hearing impairment at birth, followed by pregnancy/birth complications (including Rh incompatibility, prematurity, and birth trauma) at 8.7%. Meningitis, at 8.1%, is the leading known cause of hearing impairment occurring after birth.
    Table 13: Reported Etiology of Hearing Loss by Onset, for the Estimated Population of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in the United States, 1992-93 (N=48,300).
    Cause of Hearing Loss Percent
    Onset at birth: (47.4%)
    Maternal rubella 2.1%
    Cytomegalovirus 1.3%
    Other pregnancy/birth complications (including Rh incompatibility, prematurity, and birth trauma) 8.7%
    Heredity 13.0%
    Other causes at birth 4.5%
    Cause not known/reported 17.8%
    Onset after birth: (23.2%)
    Meningitis 8.1%
    Otis media 3.7%
    Other infection/fever (including measles and mumps) 4.0%
    Trauma 0.6%
    Other cause after birth 1.5%
    Cause not known/reported 5.3%
    Onset not known/reported (29.4%)
    TOTAL 100.0%
    Source: 1992-93 Annual Survey of Hearing Impaired Children and Youth,
    Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies, Gallaudet University.

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  14. How has the cause of hearing loss for deaf and hard-of-hearing students changed in the last 10 years?

    The largest change is for maternal rubella (Table 14). It was the reported etiology for over 9,000 students in the 1982-83 Annual Survey and less than 1,000 students in 1992-93. Other reductions in incidence are noted for pregnancy complications, Rh incompatibility, measles, mumps, infections, high fever, and trauma. However, in spite of the development of a vaccine for a leading cause of meningitis (haemophilus influenza, type B), the incidence of hearing loss due to meningitis has changed very little. Although cytomegalovirus shows a marked increase, that may be due to changes in reporting practices rather than changes in the actual prevalence.
    Table 14: Reported Etiology of Hearing Loss for the Estimated Population of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in the United States, 1982-83, 1987-88, 1992-93.
    Cause of Hearing Loss 1982-83 1987-88 1992-93
    Heredity 6,390 6,063 6,324
    Maternal rubella 9,001 2,438 992
    Pregnancy complications 1,854 1,367 1,137
    Prematurity 2,225 2,244 2,238
    Rh incompatibility 792 274 179
    Trauma at birth 1,350 1,151 1,176
    Meningitis 4,033 4,156 3,934
    Otis media 1,667 1,613 1,782
    Measles 419 174 132
    Mumps 126 48 22
    Infection 1,467 1,179 1,062
    High fever 1,734 1,364 1,127
    Trauma after birth 438 317 340
    Cytomegalovirus Not reported 337 638
    Source: 1982-83, 1987-88, and 1992-93 Annual Survey of Hearing Impaired Children and Youth,
    Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies, Gallaudet University.

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RELATED LITERATURE

  • Allen, T.E., Lam, K.H., Rawlings, B.W., Rose, D.E., & Schildroth, A.N. (1994). Young deaf adults and the transition from high school to postsecondary careers. (Gallaudet Research Institute Occasional Paper 94-1). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University.
  • Brown, S.C. (1990). Older Americans and tinnitus: A demographic study and chartbook. (Gallaudet Research Institute Monograph Series A, Number 2). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University.
  • Brown, S.C. (1990). The prevalence of communicative disorders in the aging population. (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Report 19). Rockville, MD: ASHA.
  • Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies. (1993). Data from the 1992-93 Annual Survey of Hearing Impaired Children and Youth. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University.
  • Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies. (1988). Data from the 1987-88 Annual Survey of Hearing Impaired Children and Youth. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University.
  • Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies. (1983). Data from the 1982-83 Annual Survey of Hearing Impaired Children and Youth. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University.
  • Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (1993). Fifteenth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of The Individuals with Disabilities Act. Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Education.
  • Ries, Peter W. (1994).Prevalence and characteristics of persons with hearing trouble: United States, 1990-91. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Statistics, 10(188).
  • Rawlings, B.W., King, S.J., Skilton, J.C., & Rose, D.E. (1993). Gallaudet University alumni survey, 1993. (Gallaudet Research Institute and the Office of Institutional Research Report). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University.
  • Schildroth, A.N. (1994). Congenital cytomegalovirus and deafness. American Journal of Audiology, 2(3), 27-38.
  • Schildroth, A.N., & Karchmer, M.A. (Eds.). (1986). Deaf children in America. San Diego, CA: College-Hill Press.

[Last modified: 2012.03.21 11:55:15. by Kevin Cole]

DISCLAIMER: This website contains documents with terms that may be considered by today's reader as outdated and even offensive. For example, the term "hearing impairment" is sometimes used as a category for levels of hearing loss, such as hard of hearing and deaf. Some people now see cultural identification and communication preference as defining characteristics behind terms such as hard of hearing and deaf, and they do not favor terms conveying medical distinctions and loss. Yet we recognize that removing and changing terms may alter the precise meaning of the scientific author. A solution may be found by expanding the scope of future research to include non-medical perspectives.
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