Hearing loss and society

As the demographic profile of our societies is changing, good hearing is poised to become a defining element of our health and social policies. Hearing care plays a crucial role in helping people with hearing loss to remain independent and mobile, fully empowered, active members of society.

Today, 10% of the population in the European Union – or around 47 million people – live with hearing loss.

Globally, the figure was at 466 million in 2018, and it is expected to rise to almost 1 billion by 2050. The occurrence of hearing loss rises sharply with age – 36.7% of people aged 75+ report having some degree of hearing loss.

The impact on societies

Hearing loss is a social challenge.

It severely impacts the ability to living self-sufficiently. Multiple studies have found that hearing loss impairs one’s ability to carry out daily activities, such as cooking, shopping, going out and socializing. Having hearing loss makes it more difficult to maintain independence and increases a person’s reliance on others for support and for maintaining the quality of their lives. It affects mobility, social interactions and public interactive activities, such as culture and entertainment. This quickly causes feelings of marginalisation and a disconnect from society.

Communication barriers can be insurmountable as the built environment – public infrastructure such as culture venues, movie theatres, airports and train stations – is often not designed to be accessible to those with hearing loss.

Due to the increasingly ageing population, the share of people living with hearing loss is bound to increase in the future – therefore, helping them to live in autonomy, independence and self-determination will become an important social role of our healthcare systems.

The economic impact

Untreated hearing loss has substantial repercussions at the macroeconomic level.

Across all age groups, hearing loss costs the EU and UK 185 bn euros every year. Hearing loss not only causes an overall loss of quality of life, such as cognitive decline and the reduced ability to take part in social activities[1]. Among the most immediate consequences are the barriers in the labour market.

Hearing loss causes significant declines in workplace productivity and personal incomes. More than two thirds of persons with hearing loss say it impacts their ability to carry out their professional duties[2].

It may interfere in very subtle ways – such as misunderstanding tasks or the inability to follow meetings – or be very direct, e.g. the inability to be employed in noisy workspaces, such as transport, industry and manufacturing, where room acoustics do not allow for easy communication.

The negative effects in the workplace causes compound losses of salaries and income:

People with hearing loss are at higher risk of unemployment than people with healthy hearing.

If employed, they usually carry out lower-skilled and lower-paid work, e.g. part-time. This causes a sizeable pay gap: Studies from the UK and US suggest that people experiencing hearing loss are 1.6x likelier to be low-income earners than the average population[3]. Reliance on welfare and unemployment benefits is higher than in the general workforce.

They are at greater risk of absenteeism. In the UK, 36% of people entering early retirement said that hearing loss was a contributing factor[4].

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