Businessman holding empty pocket

Of the 48 million Americans that claim some level of hearing loss, 60 percent are currently in the labor force. Which means millions of Americans head to work every day with less than optimal hearing.

We know that hearing loss negatively impacts general physical, social, and mental health, but what about the economic effects? Does hearing loss impact income, and does the treatment of hearing loss help?

The Better Hearing Institute set out to answer these questions in a study titled The Impact of Untreated Hearing Loss on Household Income. Here’s a concise overview of the study, the results, and the implications.

The Study

The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) started by mailing out a short screening survey to 80,000 households across the US. This helped to identify approximately 16,000 people with hearing loss.

Using the list of 16,000 individuals with hearing loss, more comprehensive surveys were sent to the following two groups:

  1. A random sample of 3,000 individuals with hearing loss that currently own hearing aids.
  2. A random sample of 3,000 individuals with hearing loss that do not presently own hearing aids.

The 7-page survey incorporated questions about demographics, hearing loss, hearing aid use and satisfaction, long-term plans, and work information. Each respondent was additionally asked multiple questions about their hearing loss extent, which produced one of four categories from mild to profound.

With all this data, the researchers could now:

  1. Compare income to the degree of hearing loss
  2. Compare earnings to those who used hearing aids and those who did not

The results show that hearing loss has an effect on income

Individuals with profound hearing loss were found, on average, to earn $12,000 less per year than those with mild hearing loss. The results also plainly showed that as the severity of hearing loss increased, income fell proportionally.

And the overall economic cost to society?

According to the study, the estimated cost of lost earnings due to untreated hearing loss in the US is $122 billion, which results in an estimated $18 billion of uncollected federal taxes.

Having said that, all is not lost. The study also revealed, most significantly, that using hearing aids was found to minimize the income effects of hearing loss by 50 percent.

Implications for professionals with hearing loss

Does the use of hearing aids really lead to an increase in income? Isn’t it a possibility that people who have a higher salary are simply in a better position to pay for hearing aids, so are consequently more likely to own and use them?

It’s a legitimate question, but there’s numerous reasons to think that wearing hearing aids can, in fact, enhance income, through enhanced work productivity. In terms of employment, hearing loss can:

  • Take people out of the job market, or out of contention for promotion, leading to higher levels of unemployment and underemployment.
  • Cause people to make mistakes on the job, limiting promotions.
  • Create communication barriers, restricting productivity. Most jobs demand effective verbal communication, and this is assessed as a significant aspect of job performance.
  • Reduce overall social and mental quality of life, bringing about depression, fatigue, impaired cognition, and a proportionate drop in job performance.

For these reasons, treating your hearing loss will most likely improve your job performance, and, as a result, your income potential.

What are your thoughts? Have you encountered problems at work caused by hearing loss, and have hearing aids helped?