Our Culture, Our Value: The Costs of Hearing Loss in Australia

April 30, 2022

Progressive Economics

The economic impact of deafness is very large, with a recent estimate suggesting that the costs exceed 1.303 trillion dollars globally (WHO, 2021). Approximately 57% of these costs are incurred by middle-, lower middle-, and low-income countries (McDaid, 2020). Nonetheless, costs remain high within OECD countries, particularly in relation to care, productivity, and quality of life (Ibid, 2020). Yet many of these costs are avoidable and may be reduced through early intervention, expedient screening, and other care and productivity responses.

Within Australia, deafness significantly impacts the quality of life of many, resulting in consequences for health and wellbeing outcomes. Similarly, the costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism are also high, impacting national productivity. However, early intervention, depending on its approach and strategies, can mitigate many of these costs, affording recipients significant lifetime benefits. Several interventions are possible, though unhelpfully they are often presented as either/or opportunities resulting in individuals not benefiting or achieving lower levels of benefit that is possible.

Understanding the costs of deafness is instructive in policy formulation and analysis and provides significant insight into the challenges faced by many Australians. The present report does not consider the specific viability of particular models of medical intervention. The intention of this present report is to quantify the costs of deafness, with a particular focus on the emerging costs of deafness associated with language deprivation, and the associated syndrome. Unfortunately, the impact of language deprivation is not considered significantly within the cost quantification of deafness literature. Our report reflects this specific lack of analysis.

Additionally, little is known about the costs associated with the delivery of mental health services to individuals that experience language deprivation, or the impact of age-associated deafness on mental health services access.

However, the economic benefits associated with interventions which promote improved capabilities and address the impacts of deafness are better understood and are considerable. Improved educational outcomes and labour market participation rates are significant considerations, and even modest improvements of these among the Deaf and hard of hearing community would result in substantial benefits for the wider Australian economy. Similarly, solutions to improve the engagement of Deaf people with gainful employment and service access, will improve both economic and wellbeing outcomes.