Businessman holding empty pocket

Of the 48 million Americans that report some level of hearing loss, 60 percent are presently in the workforce. That means millions of Americans head out to work every day with less than optimal hearing.

We know that hearing loss adversely affects general physical, social, and mental health, but what about the economic consequences? Does hearing loss affect salary, 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 short outline of the study, the results, and the implications.

The Study

The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) started by sending out a brief screening survey to 80,000 households across the US. This aided to identify approximately 16,000 individuals with hearing loss.

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

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

The 7-page survey included questions about demographics, hearing loss, hearing aid usage and satisfaction, future plans, and employment information. Each respondent was additionally asked several questions about their hearing loss extent, which produced one of four categories from mild to profound.

With all this information, the researchers could now:

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

The results show that hearing loss has an effect on income

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

And the overall economic cost to society?

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

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

Implications for employees with hearing loss

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

It’s a legitimate question, but there’s good reason 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, causing higher levels of unemployment and underemployment.
  • Cause people to make mistakes on the job, limiting promotions.
  • Create communication obstacles, limiting productivity. Most jobs demand effective verbal communication, and this is evaluated as a significant element of job performance.
  • Reduce overall social and mental well being, leading to depression, exhaustion, hindered cognition, and a proportionate decrease in job performance.

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

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