OBJECTIVE: To examine the association between age at onset of deafness and mortality. METHODS: The authors analyzed National Health Interview Survey data from 1990 and 1991--the years the Hearing Supplement was administered--linked with National Death Index data for 1990-1995. Adjusting for sociodemographic variables and health status, the authors compared the mortality of three groups of adults ages > or = 19 years: those with prelingual onset of deafness (< or = age 3 years), those with postlingual onset of deafness (> age 3 years), and a representative sample of the general population. RESULTS: Multivariate analyses adjusted for sociodemographics and stratified by age found that adults with postlingual onset of deafness were more likely to die in the given time frames than non-deaf adults. However, when analyses were also adjusted for health status, there was no difference between adults with postlingual onset of deafness and a control group of non-deaf adults. No differences in mortality were found between adults with prelingual onset of deafness and non-deaf adults. CONCLUSIONS: Adults with postlingual onset of deafness appear to have higher mortality than non-deaf adults, which may be attributable to their lower self-reported health status.