“Be Prepared.” That’s the motto of one of America’s longest running youth organizations, The Boy Scouts of America. The outdoor adventure and leadership club for boys turned 100 years old last year, and its longevity has piqued the interest of academics and statisticians. Miller-McCune compiled a collection of studies of the boy scouts’ first century, and some of the results may “offer guidance to program leaders for the organization’s next 100 years.”
The first obstacle the scouts face is declining membership. According to Miller-McCune’s Tom Jacobs, “[p]articipation peaked in 1973 with 4.8 million scouts and has since plunged 42 percent, to 2.8 million.” In the same timeframe, the population of America has risen by about 100 million. A number of causes have been attributed to declining membership, including scout masters’ struggle to properly teach outdoors skills to children with less and less exposure to nature and exclusionary, spirituality-based recruitment criteria (the organization bars atheists, agnostics, gays, and girls). Although the Boy Scouts are behind the times culturally, the organization is ahead of the game in regard to America’s number one preoccupation: makin’ moola.
A long established maxim is that boy scouts go on to be more successful than their Honor Badge-less peers. Jacobs points to a 2010 Gallup poll that confirms that:
Twenty-two percent of men who have been Boy Scouts graduate from college compared to 16 percent of non-Scouts; 19 percent of men who have been Boy Scouts achieve a postgraduate education, compared with 13 percent of non-Scouts. Men who have been Boy Scouts also report higher annual incomes.
You’d think that with demographics like these—coupled with our sluggish economy—the ranks of boy scouts would be swelling.
Although many of these studies show interesting trends, the results don’t offer many non-statistical takeaways. “The rap on all this research about Scouts is that little of it has been published in peer-reviewed journals and thus lacks empirical answers to the most important questions,” writes Jacobs. “Does Scouting matter? Do Eagle Scouts achieve greater success than other Scouts? Does the impact of Scouting vary from different eras?”
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