Why are so many boys taking so much longer to reach Eagle Scout?

You can’t blame this one on inflation.

More than 60 years ago, the average age of a boy earning Eagle was 14.6. Today it’s 17.1.

As we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Eagle Scout Award this month, it’s a good time to ask: Why the increase?

Are boys simply taking time to enjoy the journey toward Scouting’s top honor? Are they busier with school or extracurricular activities? Or is some other factor at work here?

I do know this: More boys earn Eagle today than ever before, a sign that the program is working. But at the same time, more boys wait until they’re 17 years and 11 months old to finish the journey — raising their parents’ blood pressures in the process.

What do you think?

Why are today’s new Eagle Scouts so much older than Eagle Scouts from a generation ago? Join the discussion below.


Graphic adapted from this official BSA infographic.

172 thoughts on “Why are so many boys taking so much longer to reach Eagle Scout?

  1. Well as a parent I can understand why it takes so long for a boy to earn his eagle if you live in the tar river district because they make up there own rules.

  2. I agree with Lizzie of Tar River District. As a parent and active Scouter I have heard some bizarre comments (from other Scouters) and encountered some equally bizarre unit “requirements” that are in direct violation of BSA Policy. I have found that the problem is that almost no one reads the current BSA published documentation (Boy Scout Handbook, Scoutmasters Handbook, SPL Handbook, Patrol Leader Handbook, Guide to Advancement, Guide to Safe Scouting, Committee Guide, etc.), and very few truly understand what LEADERSHIP is. Almost all are going by the “what someone told someone chain” or “we’ve always done it that way” rationale, and NONE of these hear-say excuses are written/published anywhere – you just discover them by the landmine method (unknowingly stepping on one of them). It appears to be more prevalent among the more “experienced” Scouters. The solution is to READ, READ, READ; and DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT. Go to the Unit Key 3 (Unit Charter Representative, Unit Committee Chair, and Scoutmaster) politely with what you have learned, documented, and recommendations. If they refuse to bring Unit policy into compliance, you will have to go up the chain to the District Executive; but tell them before you do it so they have the opportunity to reconsider the folly of their intransigence. I have had contact with Scouters from several other councils, and they ALL have the same problem. The only way to stop this problem is constant vigilance and polite, but insistent, pushing both from the bottom up and from the top down.

    Odie

    • Pat,
      You hit the nail on the head. Your experience is NOT unique. I wish I could say it was, but it isn’t. Your approach is really only one that might work. Sometimes however, your told to just leave because you don’t fit in when you want to follow the BSA guidelines and policy. Adding “requirements” to what are the published requirements have been one of the reasons I have seen an increase in time. The other is the addition of an “age requirements” by the local Scoutmaster.

  3. There are numerous reasons in different units, districts or locales. First there are parents who take no interest in knowing what the program is, what it offers and that there are rules and guidelines. They rely on what the adult leaders tell them. Some scoutmasters and their youth run great programs that continually offer everything needed for a boy to reach Eagle by age fourteen. Many think that the entire BSA program occurs in a single room where a troop meets. They don’t know that there are opportunities out there in the council, region, country or the world that you access starting at age 14. As a result many scoutmasters slow the process down so they can hold onto the boys by holding advancement over their heads. My opinion is that if you can become an Eagle earlier you have time for the OA, camp staffing, regional and national programs and being available to the council for events. You will also have and the time to complete a more meaningful leadership project other than a quick garbage can and paintbrush job. You get more scouting because you are not almost an adult and chasing the last merit badge. If a boy is college bound and not at a higher rank before high school they now have a higher workload in school, more choices of clubs and teams and less time for advancement. Scouting is dropped during the critical junior year and picked up at seventeen and a half chasing the last five merit badges and possible doing a short-cut project. There are some that point to the last minute Eagles and say that a fifteen year old can’t be an Eagle because they are not as mature as the seventeen year old. But the scout that can read the requirements, organize their time and develop a work ethic and finish earlier is actually more mature. You should not expect a fourteen year old to perform the same way in a board of review as someone who is about to turn eighteen. Scouts that are Eagle earlier can enjoy their accomplishment and provide a good example for younger boys. Scouts that go to a board of review three hours before their 18th birthday never get to wear their patch and go directly to the square knot and may never return to scouting. I have a real distain for scoutmasters that make up their own rules and committees that rubber stamp everything. Not all boys are the same. Some scoutmasters go by the school year. In a typical junior high school class there are students of three different ages. In our case, we had a change in leadership where the new scoutmaster held fourteen and fifteen year olds back more than a year so his son could catch up and become an Eagle first. Only then were the other boys allowed to pursue their projects.
    This is not Fidel Castro’s pioneers. We as parents do not give up our rights to our children. Parents have plans for their children and a scoutmaster should not get between children and the parents nor should the scoutmaster interfere with family operations or marriages. We are of the opinion that scouts should try to reach the Eagle rank before they are loaded up with high school classes and activities and enjoy their last years as scouts as true leaders and examples to the community.

  4. In my sons troop they are also making up their own rules. Boys who are earning their Star or Life badges can do so only if the they plan, organize, and staff their own service projects. The guide to advancement clearly states that they only have to participate in service hours and specifically points out that the scouts do not need to plan and supervise. My son helped out on other scouts eagle projects and was told those hours don’t count. One family that took this issue to council was eventually pushed out of the troop as trouble makers for making a fuss against a scout master who has been deemed “untouchable”. After this at least 3 families have left the troop. Those scout that remain will do as they are told and be stalled.

    • I must disagree with this previous comment. But, of course, I would have to observe the actual practice in action. It seems to me that boys who plan a service project for Star and Life accomplish many things:
      One the greatest being – Leadership Experience. As long as the requirement isn’t being done as a “right of passage”, the belief that Community service done as advancement for rank aught to be more than the ‘good turn’, we all should be doing as an active Scout and/or Scouter.
      2) Valuable experience in putting on a project. (surely the minimum 6 hours is still much less than the dozens of hours required for a proper Eagle project) And I believe this previous experience increases success on an Eagle Project.
      3) Plus, in contrast to what Rick says, the Scout book does actually state: “Service Projects are ideal opportunities for Scouts to use skills of self-leadership and leading others. A Scout should ‘have a vision of what a successful project looks like’ and be able to ‘figure out the steps to get there”.

      Hopefully, Scoutmasters use the Service Project in this manner, and not as a barrier/hurdle for advancement.

      • I agree that that planning and leading a project has more to accomplish but that is NOT what the requirement states. BSA have spent of lot of time into these requirements and a poor scout shouldn’t have to end up following some made up rules that some lousy scoutmaster said just because he thought it was more valuable. Once again I agree that leadership is important but the scout will get to that for Eagle.
        Do what the requirement states, it is made to make things fair, not easier.

  5. I understand that up until the 1960’s an Eagle Service Project wasn’t even required for the rank of Eagle. My son just finished his project and is gearing up for his Eagle BOR. He is 16 (14 when he started) and the project was HUGE, he had some stumbling blocks, and it was not easy for him to navigate with so many moving parts in the process. I know of many younger scouts who have earned their Eagle Rank and it makes me wonder how much “help” they had. Many of the steps needed to complete the project are concepts that a teen has never experienced before. So doing it all on his own without any help would make the project unattainable. We helped our son, guided him in his navigation of all the hoops involved and helped him stay on track and organized (along with his scoutmaster and project advisor) for over a year now. We were very careful not to take over the project or do too much for him. I think it may have been easier to do if he waited another year or 2 and had been more mature. But the experience as a whole has be invaluable to our whole family, and especially to him.

    (And when I say “Eagle Project” I mean the whole process – the physical execution of the service portion of the project was the easy part!)

  6. Kathe – the point of an Eagle Project isn’t for a boy to do all on his own. The point of an Eagle Project is for the boy to show leadership, which means getting other people to help him, and direct them in doing the work…

    • Yes, the scout must show leadership. I did not take the remark by Kathe that her son did the entire project on their own but that there are those projects that have much collaboration with parents and others who act as leadership surrogates thus depriving the boy of his experience. I knew some boys so busy with other activities we suspected the parents finding the project and performing most of the project behind the scenes.

  7. About an hour from now, I am headed to the Scout Office to participate in an evening of Eagle BORs (I usually chair one or more boys’ BOR each month). The Council I am in is located on the San Francisco Peninsula, an area full of ambitious parents and fo youth who are heavily involved in a large number of activities, ranging from heavy enrollment in Advanced Placement classes, to soccer, Little League, and other sports, to school-sponsored (and required service projects). The pressure is high for academic achievement and getting into the “best” schools. Given all the other, non-Scout activities combined with parental pressure to “do it all”, the youth have a hard time squeezing in the required Merit Badges, Scout leadership roles, Scout service projects (demands from Charter organizations), and ultimately their Eagle projects.
    BUT – a lot of the boys manage to do it. During my tenure as SM for 5 years, I had 19 boys complete Eagle (including my own son at age 15 – though many kept saying w5 is too young). Over half finished at 17+, including 2 SM Conferences at age 17y 364 days at 8PM.
    The BSA rules are followed very closely (thankfully). But the pressure from parents and the huge amount of other activities does delay many of them. OTOH, I had one boy whose parents decided to take an extended world tour, insisting their son go with them, at his age of 17 1/2. This left him with not enough time to finish 2 merit badges plus get an Eagle project organized and done.
    There really is no single problem that covers all situations.

  8. I was one of those 17 year old Eagles. I was very involved in the HS cross-country ski team. I then moved up to the Jr. National Team. I still went to summer camp and to some of the fall and spring activities, but I was so busy with school and racing I almost missed my Eagle window. I finished the project in August and the last two merit badges in Sept. and October, and had BOR in November. I turned 18 in January, had my Eagle Court in Feb. with 3 other boys I had gone through the years from the beginning. We were all 17.5-ish. We had a really big and very active troop so leadership positions were very hard to land. Over the years I had been ASPL, PL, historian, QM. At 17 I needed a leadership position but missed the election meeting. I ended up being a den chief for our feeder Pack’s Webelos den. It was probably the best leadership role for me, I learned so much. I was lucky because the den leader was the same man who was my den leader in cubs, his oldest son was in the troop with me. He had been an ASM with the troop over the years, now he was back in Cubs with his younger son. One of the most thrilling moments for me was on a Webelos den overnight. I was staying in a tent by myself a little ways off. I helped the boys and their dads set up their tents and the rest of the campsite, then went off to set up my own and get my gear squared away. I overheard the leader Dan talking to some of the boys when they asked him: “…he’s going to sleep over there all by himself?” Dan said, yup, Mark is almost an Eagle Scout. We’re lucky to have him.When you’re in Boyscouts you will learn to camp and do things for yourself too.

    In reality, I was lucky to be there and to have woken up in time to finish!

    After leaving scouts for a while, I pursued ski racing further in college, competing at the division 1 level and racing at the national level for a few years after that. Then I buckled down, got my teaching license and was able to spend a couple of years at scout camp as the senior commissioner. I volunteered a few years with a local troop as an ASM and took the opportunity to finish my Woodbadge (the Eager Beavers of NE-1-185).

    Then I left scouting again to build a house by myself, get married and have kids. Now I’m back, in what I’m figuring out is my third scouting milestone: working my way through Cubs again, this time with my son! We’re just finishing up our Tiger year…

  9. There are as many reasons why earning Eagle rank takes longer as there are individual scouts. The most recent revelation I have found is Scoutmasters using their own son’s capabilities as the benchmark which the measure other scouts. In other words, no scout younger than their son should become an Eagle. A classmate of mine from an adult training course told me he had to start a new troop so his son had a place to advance. The old troop’s scoutmaster’s sons ran into trouble and if they couldn’t make it no other scout would advance past them. There is a troop in my council that is geographically isolated and rarely leave their island. They only have one thing to say when they come to the mainland. , “We have to stop these fourteen year old Eagles”. I reply, “stop them from doing what?” They want to control the advancement of every scout in the country that they don’t know! “How many are there? They don’t know any but they want to control the world and stop anyone more talented, motivated and more mature than their son from getting to the Eagle Rank before him.

  10. I haven’t read all the posts, so forgive me if this isn’t a new thought. . .

    I strongly suspect that there has been an incorrect assumption behind the whole question. I think it is likely that the issue isn’t taking longer to earn Eagle, but more boys staying in until (at least) they do.

    In the post WW II boom, joining Boy Scouts was the thing to do yet the annual rate of Eagle Scouts was only in the 10,000 – 14,000 range. Even at Scouting’s membership peak in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the number was only around 30,000. Today, the annual rate is over 50,000, with fewer members.

    I suspect the high school students then were faced with their own distractions (school, cars, girls, working to help support the family after dad didn’t return from the war, etc.). The Eagle rank had not developed the same level of prestige with fewer Eagles (didn’t hit 500k until 1965), no astronauts, presidents, or captains of industry (the first Eagle Scout was only 53 in 1949). Given all that, I suspect the boys who hadn’t earned Eagle by a certain point had a tendency to fade out. I know that was the case in my Troop in the 70’s.

    While the boys today have a lot on their plates and many choices, some of those choices, like sports and other major hobbies, are even more prevalent at earlier ages than in the past so that many of the boys who join boy scouts now have already made choices. Others quickly decide their interests are elsewhere and leave in the first year or two. At least in my current Troop, most who make First Class stay and earn Eagle. I strongly suspect the fact the Eagle rank also carries more history and prestige is a factor for the boys who stay.

    We still have gung-ho Scouts finishing at 14.9 years, but we have a greater percentage of boys earning Eagle. Ultimately, comparing the average age of Eagle Scouts today to those in 1949 is like comparing your laptop to grandma’s typewriter.

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