Home > Deaf History > Deaf Population of the United States

Deaf Population of the United States

June 14, 2007


Frequently Asked Questions:

Deaf Population of the United States

Deaf people, as deaf people, have not been counted in the U.S. Census since 1930. The last census of the U.S. deaf population was privately conducted in 1971, sponsored by the National Association of the Deaf. For figures since then, only estimates are available. See Introduction to Deaf Statistics for a short discussion of the problems of and cautions about deaf demographic statistics.The best current estimate of the total U.S. deaf population is probably that in Table 1 of Holt and Hotto, Demographic aspects of hearing impairment: questions and answers, published by the Gallaudet Research Institute and reproduced below. This publication is available online at http://gri.gallaudet.edu/Demographics/factsheet.html, and the following two tables are extracted from this publication.

Note that the Gallaudet Research Institute conducts demographic surveys only for deaf and hard of hearing children of school age. It does not manage surveys of the adult deaf and hard of hearing population. Nonetheless, because of repeated inquiries, it has developed its own rough estimates based on 1990-1991 data:

  “Have hearing problems”
(includes both deaf and hard of hearing)
Total U.S. population:
20,295,000 8.6%
Children (ages 3-17):
968,000 1.8%
Ages 18-34:
2,309,000 3.4%
Ages 35-44:
2,380,000 6.3%
Ages 45-54:
2,634,000 10.3%
Ages 55-64:
3,275,000 15.4%
Ages 65 and over:
8,729,000 29.1%

How many of the above 20,295,000 are specifically deaf and not hard of hearing? Note how the numbers in the Gallaudet Research Institute’s figures, below, change depending on which of three different definitions of “deaf” is used:

Deaf (definition: “in both ears” 421,000 0.18%
Deaf (definition: “cannot hear and understand any speech” 552,000 0.23%
Deaf (definition: “at best, can hear and understand words shouted into the better ear”) 1,152,000 0.49%

The Gallaudet Research Institute offers additional breakdowns of these figures in Demographic aspect of hearing impairments: questions and answers, third edition, http://gri.gallaudet.edu/Demographics/factsheet.html#Q1/.


The U.S. Bureau of the Census has its own estimates for both hard of hearing and deaf people, based on extrapolations and statistical manipulation of a 1994-1995 general survey.

This is the latest information available as of June 2004. By that date, the disability statistics from the 2000 U.S. Census still had not yet been analyzed and published to the necessary degree of detail.

Source: Extracted from http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/disable.html (seen on 3/25/1999 but apparently no longer available online).

Note that the U.S. Census Bureau identifies two levels of hearing impairment: “have difficulty hearing normal conversation” (what most people would call “hard of hearing”) and “unable to hear normal conversation” (what most people would call “deaf”). Estimated numbers were rounded off to the nearest thousand. Also note: When using this data, it must be remembered that it is not based on any actual counting of deaf people, and could be different from reality. Note further that the Census Bureau’s figures do not include children aged 16 and under.

  Have difficulty hearing normal conversation Unable to hear normal conversation
U.S. total population over 16:
267,665,000 (100%)
7,966,000 3.8% 832,000 0.4%


The National Center for Health Statistics, also a U.S. federal agency, offers very different numbers based on its 2001 National Health Interview Survey. As with the U.S. Census figures, these numbers are not based on actual counting but on statistical extrapolation from a sampling survey. These are derived from what is supposed to be a “representative sample of households across the country” for the “civilian noninstitutionalized population of the United States,” some 100,761 persons in all. The big difference between these two U.S. government agencies in figuring total U.S. deaf population is unexplained.

Note also the NCHS’s different definitions for levels of hearing impairment, and that its age cutoff also differs: only persons age 18 and over were included.

  “A little trouble” hearing “A lot of trouble [hearing] or deaf”
U.S. total population over 18:
199,617,000 (100%)
25,128,000 12.58% 6,103,000 3.05%


The private agency Project HOPE Center for Health Affairs (now folded into the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago, NORC) published its own estimates based on analyses of other organizations’ national surveys conducted during the early to mid 1990s.

  (No estimates of “hard of hearing” persons) Have severe to profound hearing loss (usually called “deaf”)
U.S. total hearing impaired     500,000  
Children (ages 3-17)     40,000 8%
of above 500,000
Adults 65 or older     270,000 54%
of above 500,000


Additional discussion of the differing statistics and different sources is in the Gallaudet Research Institute document at http://gri.gallaudet.edu/Demographics/deaf-US.html.

For demographics of individual U.S. states and territories, click here.

* * * * * * * * * *

Prepared by Tom Harrington
Reference and Instruction Librarian
July, 2004

Categories: Deaf History
  1. Deaf Educator
    June 14, 2007 at 6:24 am

    Very rich information.

  2. Richard Roehm
    June 14, 2007 at 9:26 am

    Very interesting. It shows that childhood deafness rate is getting real small and it will have a profound impact on the future of deaf society and their social service agencies.


  3. June 14, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Well done – this is the best presentation on the numbers of deaf people in the U.S. I’ve ever seen, anywhere, and I’ve tried to find out myself several times. Half a million profoundly deaf people sounds about right – it matches numbers I’ve seen elsewhere.

    The next big question is, how many of this number know ASL and use it daily?

  4. JFLMad
    June 14, 2007 at 3:50 pm


    if you think the childhood deafness will have the profound impact on the future of the deaf society and the social service agencies…don’t forget about the elderly people! You will be deaf when you are getting older so the future of the deaf society and the social service agencies will still be there!

    Don’t jump to the conclusion and think that we will be gone in the future

  5. Richard Roehm
    June 15, 2007 at 8:38 am


    The elderly people who lose hearing DONT EVEN BOTHER going to deaf social services. Instead they go to AARP, HLAA, Masons, Lion’s Clubs, Shriners, and of course, their doctors and audiologists.

  6. June 15, 2007 at 10:35 am

    Good piece of information! I will definitely use it when studying about demographics especially relating to deaf studies.

    About late-deafened adults, it depends on the age that some of them explore learning sign language and interacting with deaf peers. Also it depends on the amount of hearing loss and their attitude about being deaf. My grandmother is losing her hearing at the age of 92 but she is still in denial about getting a hearing aid however she interacts with deaf people because of my deaf mother and her friends. Interesting, heh?

  7. Billythegoat
    June 17, 2007 at 10:17 am

    great information

  8. June 18, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    I was told that the links were not working right, it said ‘Error’. So, I already fixed the problem and it worked fine.

  9. June 18, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    Barb, are you kidding me that your grandmother who is 92 years old and she wants to have a hearing aid?

  10. May 12, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    In Australia we have the following surveys completed by our Bureau of Statistics, which may be a reasonable indication for the USA also:
    National Health Survey, 2001, publication 4364.0
    Disability, Ageing and Carers: summary of findings, 2003, publication 4430.0

    Their definitions are:

    With core activity restriction
    With schooling or employment restrictions
    All with
    disability(c)With core activity and schooling or employment restrictions
    With schooling or employment restrictions only
    All with specific restrictions
    Without specific restrictions

    A person has a disability if he/she has one of the
    following, that has lasted or is likely to last for
    6 months or more:…
    Loss of hearing (with difficulty communicating or use of
    Loss of speech;

    Specific restrictions are:
    Core activity restrictions; and/or
    Schooling or employment restrictions.

    Core activities include:
    Communication — understanding and being
    understood by others: strangers, family and friends.

    Core activity restriction may be:
    Profound — unable to perform a core activity, or
    always needing assistance;
    Severe — sometimes needing assistance to
    perform a core activity;
    Moderate — not needing assistance, but having
    difficulty performing a core activity; and
    Mild — having no difficulty performing a core
    activity, but using aids or equipment because of

    Given those definitions, the ABS estimates the following:
    Diseases of the ear and mastoid process

    Profound core activity(a)restriction 13,400
    Severe core activity(a)restriction 36,300
    Moderate core activity(a)restriction 25,900
    Mild core activity(a)restriction 124,900
    Schooling or employment restriction 60,300
    All with specific restrictions(b) 212,800
    All with disability 275,900

    Aged 0–6 years 1.6%
    Aged 0–17 years 2.0%

    Males 17.5%
    Females 9.7%
    Persons 13.5%

    I will put more complete demographic information on my website.

  11. George Wm. Johnston
    February 13, 2010 at 11:37 am

    These numbers leave common sense to tell us three things.
    1) Most deaf people have good sound English.
    2) Most deaf people cannot sign.
    3) When statistics are used to secure government grants or the like: the hype of large statistics are only to get the grant and in results, only a very few number of deaf are gonna be served from those grants, namely, those who lost hearing under age 18.

  12. February 15, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Hello I have laptop with website. I look little mess picture for sign. still problem for few days.

  13. curbeater
    February 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Some of the information is inaccurate. Many of VRS companies and Hearing Health care industries aren’t using Gallaudet demographics since they have over extended their numbers.

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