Although the educational achievement gap between people without hearing loss and people with hearing loss is well-documented, few studies are based on large, nonclinical samples. The present study aims to investigate the educational attainment among Norwegian adults diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss as children, compared with a matched control group of people without hearing loss.
A prospective cohort design was applied. Between 1954 and 1986, the children in the first, fourth, and/or seventh grade in all primary schools in Nord-Trøndelag County participated in the School Hearing Investigation in Nord-Trøndelag, in which they underwent audiometric screening. Those with positive results had their hearing further tested by means of pure tone audiometry at 0.25, 0.5, 1, 2, 4, and 8 kHz with air- and bone-conduction thresholds, as well as a full examination by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. In the present study, 216 persons were classified with moderate-severe hearing loss (41 to 100 dB HL), 293 with mild hearing loss (26 to 40 dB HL), and 240 with slight hearing loss (16 to 25 dB HL). Age-matched controls were recruited from the Norwegian Health Study, which was conducted in the same county. A total of 48,606 people participated in the present study. Data on educational attainment up to 2014 was provided by Statistics Norway. Control variables comprised sex, age, mothers’, and fathers’ education. The relation between childhood sensorineural hearing loss and educational attainment was tested by means of multinomial logistic regression models; first for the total sample (born between 1941 and 1979), and then for two different birth cohorts born between 1941 and 1959 and between 1960 and 1979.
Percentwise, the educational attainment level in general has increased, both among people without hearing loss and people with hearing loss, and especially for women. However, 27.5% of people without hearing loss obtained higher education, whereas the corresponding numbers for those with mild or moderate-severe hearing loss were 18.8%, and 21.3%, respectively. The results from the regression analyses showed that in the total sample, compared with having primary education, people with moderate-severe or mild hearing loss were about half as likely to achieve higher education as people without hearing loss (odds ratio (OR) = 0.63 and 0.49, respectively). An interaction term between sensorineural hearing loss and sex was specified but it was not significant. In the older cohort, we found a significant association between mild hearing loss and higher education (OR = 0.40), and between moderate-severe hearing loss and secondary education (OR = 0.65). In the younger cohort, there was a significant association between mild hearing loss and higher education (OR = 0.56) and between slight hearing loss and secondary education (OR = 0.61).
The results from this study indicate that the achievement gap between people without hearing loss and those with hearing loss remains. Future studies should try to pinpoint what might be hindering people with slight, mild, moderate, or severe hearing loss in pursuing higher education. Parents, health personnel, institutions for higher education, and policy makers alike should take this into consideration when making plans and policies.