Statistics on Deafness
This factsheet contains basic statistics on deafness. It
is in two parts: the first answers questions that RNID is often asked about
deafness; the second gives tables of statistics. Further information on page 7
explains where to get more detailed statistics.
We use the following definitions of deafness:
quietest sounds people can hear in their better ear are on average between 25
and 40 decibels (dB Hearing Level). People with mild deafness have some
difficulty in following speech, mainly in noisy situations.
The quietest sounds people can hear in their
better ear average between 40 and 70 decibels. People with moderate
deafness have difficulty in following speech without a hearing aid but
can use an amplified telephone.
The quietest sounds people can hear in their better
ear average between 70 and 95 decibels. People with severe deafness
rely a lot on lipreading, even with a hearing aid. If they have been deaf
from early in life, their preferred language may be sign language. They
may need a textphone or videophone.
The quietest sounds people can hear in their
better ear are on average 95 decibels or more.
People who are profoundly deaf lipread, and if they are deaf from early
in life may use sign language. They need a textphone or videophone.
Deaf or hard of hearing people in the UK
There are estimated to be about 8.7 million deaf and
hard of hearing people in the UK. The number is rising as the number of people
over 60 increases. About 673,000 of these are severely or profoundly deaf;
420,000 of them cannot hear well enough to use a voice telephone, even with a
device to make it louder. People who cannot use voice telephones may use
textphones or videophones.
Deaf or hard of hearing children in the UK
In the UK, there are between 23,000 and 25,000 children
aged 0-15 years who are permanently deaf or hard of hearing. Many more have
temporary hearing problems in early childhood. Of those with permanent deafness,
about 16,000 were born deaf or became deaf in the first few years of life. They
are sometimes called 'prelingually' deaf because they were deaf before they
developed language. They have particular educational needs. About half of them -
8,000 - are severely or profoundly deaf. The rate of prelingual deafness - 13 in
every 10,000 children - has stayed about the same for the last 20 years.
Vaccination means fewer babies are born deaf as a result of their mothers having
German measles (rubella) during pregnancy. This drop has been offset by more
babies being born deaf from other causes.
How age affects hearing
Most of the 8.7 million deaf and hard of hearing people in
the UK have developed a hearing loss with increasing age. Only about 2% of young
adults are deaf or hard of hearing. Around the age of 50 the proportion of deaf
people begins to increase sharply and 55% of people over 60 are deaf or hard of
Are men and women equally likely to be affected?
From the age of 40 onwards, a higher
proportion of men than women become hard of hearing. This is probably because
more men have been exposed to high levels of industrial noise. Among people over
the age of 80, more women than men are deaf or hard of hearing. This is simply
because women tend to live longer than men, not because women are more likely to
How many people use hearing aids?
About two million people in the UK own hearing aids, but
only 1.4 million use them regularly. There are at least another three million
people who do not have hearing aids but experience significant hearing
difficulties in everyday life. They would be likely to benefit from a hearing
People in the UK who use British Sign Language
It is difficult to give a precise number. Many people who
are born deaf or are deafened early in life use sign language to communicate.
RNID judges that around 50,000 use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate,
and BSL is the first language of many of them.
'deafened' refers to people who were not prelingually deaf, but have become
severely or profoundly deaf in adult life - often suddenly - as a result of an
accident, disease or toxic effects. There are an estimated 128,000 people in
this category under the age of 65. These people often rely heavily on lipreading
and text communication. They may require communication support such as
speech-to-text transcription, lipspeakers or notetakers in meetings and other
situations where lipreading is difficult.
How many people lipread?
It is difficult to say definitely how many people lipread.
All of us, whether we have a hearing loss or not, lipread to some extent,
especially in noisy situations. As people develop a hearing loss they usually
rely increasingly on lipreading, but this depends on the nature of their hearing
loss and how well they lipread.
are about 23,000 deafblind people in the UK. Sense, the National Deafblind and
Rubella Association, defines deafblindness as "A severe degree of combined
visual and auditory impairment resulting in special needs in the areas of
communication, access to information, and mobility."
People with tinnitus
Tinnitus is the name given to the noises which some people
hear 'in the ears' or 'in the head' - buzzing, ringing, hissing, and other
sounds which do not come from an external source. Many people have tinnitus at
one time or another, but for some it lasts only a short time. For others it is
permanent. Permanent tinnitus can be either mild or severe.
In the UK:
- About 10% of adults - 4.7 million people - have at some time
experienced tinnitus (prolonged spontaneous tinnitus) for longer
than five minutes. This figure does not include people who have had
tinnitus for a short time after being exposed to a loud noise.
- About 5% of adults - 2.3 million people - have tinnitus which they
find severely or moderately annoying.
- About 5% of adults - 2.3 million people - have tinnitus which makes
it difficult for them to sleep.
- About 1% of adults - 470,000 people - have tinnitus that has a
severe effect on their quality of life.
- About 0.5% of adults - 230,000 people - have tinnitus which has a
severe effect on their ability to lead a normal life.
Many people get medical advice about tinnitus:
- 7% of adults - 3.3 million people - have been to see
their doctor about tinnitus. A quarter of adults with hearing problems have
complained of tinnitus.
Deaf people with additional disabilities
A high proportion of severely or profoundly deaf people
have other disabilities as well. Among those under 60, 45% have additional
disabilities, mostly of a physical nature. Among severely or profoundly deaf
people over 60 years, 77% have some additional disability. For 45%, this means
significant dexterity or sight difficulties, or both.
Deaf people and work
than three million people of working age (16-65 years) are deaf or hard of
hearing; 153,000 of these are severely or profoundly deaf. The Labour Force
Survey includes a question that asks people if they have deafness that affects
the kind of work they can do. It shows that deaf people are twice as likely to
be unemployed as people in general. Those in work are more likely to be in
semi-skilled or unskilled jobs. How many people are registered deaf or hard of
In 1998, only 189,578 in England were registered with their social
services department as deaf or hard of hearing. As there are more than
seven million deaf and hard of hearing people in England, and 579,000
of them are severely or profoundly deaf, it is clear that the registers
are a very poor guide. The low level of registration is partly explained
by the fact that it is voluntary and that people are entitled to help from
their Social Services Department whether they are registered or not.
Numbers of deaf and hard of hearing people in your area
On page 7 are tables showing estimated numbers for the UK as a
whole and for each country within it. If you know the size of the
population in your area, and how it breaks down by age group, you can
use the percentages in the table to calculate estimates for your area.
RNID recalculates these statistics in these tables every five years since
the change each year would be too slight to be significant; they will
next be revised in 2001. Hearing in adults, chapter 8 (see Further
information, below), gives estimates for every health region and local
authority district of England and Wales.
Hearing in adults by A Davis (Whurr, 1995).
'Risk factors for hearing disorders: epidemiologic evidence of change
over time in the UK' A Davis et al, in The Journal of the American
Academy of Audiology 6:5 (1995).
Current population estimates, Office for National Statistics 1996.