Does Scouting build character? Here’s one way to find out …

Do Cub Scouts have improved character, health, and academic achievement over boys who aren’t in the program?

Empirical evidence says yes, but soon we’ll have scientific data to support what we all think we know.

This September, a three-year study by Baylor University and Tufts University will seek to answer that question and more. 

You may remember the Baylor University study from last year that documented statistically significant differences between Eagle Scouts, former Scouts who didn’t make Eagle, and men who were never in Scouting. The overall finding: Eagle Scouts contribute to society in ways men who were never in Scouting do not.

Now it’s Cub Scouting’s turn. Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion is joined by Tufts’ Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development for this new study, funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

The universities will survey 3,880 boys from the economically and ethnically diverse Philadelphia area. It will compare boys ages 7, 8, 9, and 10 from these three groups:

  • 36 randomly selected Cub Scout packs with full-time Scout executives
  • 36 randomly selected Cub Scout packs without full-time Scout executives
  • Comparable samples of boys who are not in Cub Scouts

The same boys will be surveyed in September 2013, May 2014, September 2014, and May 2015 to document their progress. Results will measure the importance of Scouting in a boy’s development — as well his contribution to his community and democracy. In addition, the study should provide insight into the effectiveness of full-time Scouting professionals who assist Scout troops by training the leaders, recruiting and retaining youths, and raising money.

Researcher Byron Johnson, director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, had this to say about the study’s potential in a news release:

“The program could become a model for recruitment and retention of diverse youth — especially boys from inner cities — in Boy Scouts, especially if the study shows that involvement in the Scouts enhances the youths’ character.”

I’ll have the results on Bryan on Scouting when they’re published.

Photo: Some rights reserved by jonahbonahhandmade

20 thoughts on “Does Scouting build character? Here’s one way to find out …

  1. Bryan I think the survey will be beneficial for recruiting . In my 30 years in Scouting building character has been a focus for me and is the foundation of any successfull youth program. I wish the survey would be more a section of all the Districts of the National BSA. Basically the three largest The East, West and South. I often see that any focus of using a small portion to survey in a small section can be misleading. Nevertheless It is a good move. Trenton

  2. I have no doubt what the findings will be. Scouting rocks! But I do wonder if the tail is wagging the dog. The parents who put their kids in Scouting clearly value these traits in the first place. I’m curious how the study will account for that. Rather like studies showing homeschooling produces higher performers – I would argue that this is because it takes a certain profile of parent to take on this responsibility.

  3. As Todd has already suggested, I wonder how accurately such faux-scientific studies identify the causative factor in the success of such children. Don’t get me wrong – I think that Scouting is a great opportunity for boys during their formative years. However, I remain skeptical about whether other confounding variable can be factored out to identify how much impact scouting has on driven boys with parents who are enthusiastic about their child’s involvement in activities such as scouting. I believe that the best measure is to simply ask the boys we come in contact with each week. If they believe that scouting has been a positive impact on their lives, then it probably has! For me, there is nothing like seeing a boy conquer a fear, such as a scout who was previously afraid of heights rappelling, or make a significant achievement such as the mile swim or even passing their swimming test. Any scouter who has seen that look, knows that scouting touches lives.

  4. I am a Committe Chair of a Pack who is participating in the study. My unit is located within the metropolitan Philadelphia area. This area has had a significant decrease in the number of Scouts within our Council for a number of years. We’re just beginning to turn the corner and see some improvement; however, it can’t be done without significant resources. Such resources can’t be obtained without concrete evidence such as the results of the Tufts University study can provide. This evidence can be used to show those who have the means to contribute to a great program.

    I believe there is already evidence that shows advancement within the Cub Scout program helps with retention. I believe there is also evidence that boys those who begin their Scouting Trail in Cub Scouts have a significantly greater chance for continuing on with the program and earn their Eagle Rank. I know that the Cub Scout Program is a family program and that much of the character impact on a Scout comes from the home during the Cub Scout years. I brought this very question up the the research team at our annual Councilwide Roundtable this past August. They assured me that THIS was the heart of the study and it won’t be ignored.

    This study has the potential for giving a significant and substantial boost to the Cub Scout program. Because Cub Scouting is a FAMILY program, it can reach many more individuals within a community during the most crucial formation years.than the programs developed for older, more established youth. Consider the possibilty of a more engaged family in the Pack. Consider the possibility of creating a family environment through the extended Pack family for a population that only knows abandonment.

    Those commenting on here see the obvious benefits that Scouting has to offer. It’s those who aren’t paying attention that this study is intended to convince.

  5. A whole 72 kids will be tested on the Scouting side. And of those, half will not have a full time Scout Executive?

    Two questions. Why such a small sample, when I know Packs that are bigger than the sample size? Secondly, what difference does having a Scout Exec in play mean to the test? I don’t think the average Cub Scout family could pick out their Scout Exec from a police lineup – so I’m unsure as to the validity of that as a defining factor (even given the explanation above, I really don’t see it as a significant enough factor in the character development of a Scout). Kids in Cubs get their values from their family, their immediate Leaders, their Pack Leaders and from other direct and immediate influences (from teachers to television). Whether or not a full-time Scout Exec is in the picture and given the small sample size – there’s is simply too much statistical variance possible to drawn any scientific conclusion of merit from this.

    With such a small sample size, I’m not even sure they can get a decent geographic/religious cross section. I hope when they report their findings when they release this information (sample size and selection guidelines) as well. Because this survey appears broken out of the gate.

    • Charles,

      Thanks for your comments. As I wrote above, it’s 72 packs — not 72 boys. The total sample size is 3,880 boys, which is statistically sound.


      • Whoops! Bryan, thank you for correcting me.

        72 Packs sounds great. Although I’m still not sure about the validity of comparing those with Scouting Execs and those without. I stand by my argument that an extremely significant majority of a Cub’s character development is found at the Unit level and smaller.

        Again, sorry for the misread. Bryan, is there a way to turn on editing of posts? I wish I could have that one back to rewrite.

  6. I am not a statistician and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but have been around enough of them in the Army to be dangerous. I hope that the questions also include: parental status, parental involvement in the Pack, church participation, and other outside activities (soccer, T-Ball, Basketball, etc.) These factors are just as likely to affect the boys as Cub Scouts. Even if the results show that being in Scouts does a positive thing, it will be difficult to tell if the positive results are the results of Scouting or another factor in their life.

    I examined the Baylor study fairly closely and what got me was the way the scoring system was done so it was Eagles Vs Scouters; and Eagles Vs Non-Scouters with a percent of more likely or less likely to do something. I would have rather had seen an easy to read chart that would had said something like: Donates money regularly to a non-profit: Eagles: 82%; Other Scouters: 65%; Non-Scouter: 47%. Figures like this would have told me immediately that “Yes, Eagles donate more than others.” While I believe that is what the Baylor Survey was telling me I had to sort of interpret the figures instead of letting them jump off the page at me.

    • For each Scout that participates in the study, both their leaders from the Pack and the Scouts’ parents also complete a survey that asks questions pertaining to demographic information and other activities, etc.

      It’s a valid concern and even I am skeptical about HOW the study will determine WHERE the character influence occurs in the Cub Scout age boy. The research staff have assured us that their survey is designed to help extract that information.

  7. Years ago, my son was enrolled in an Enrichment Program at the school along with a dozen or so other boys. He and the other boys were doing exceptionally well in school. The Psychologist, Special Education, and other educated staff interviewed myself and my wife wanting to know why our son was “gifted”. I told them that we act like parents! My kids are not smart because they were born that way, they work for it. We make sure they get the right food, enough sleep, listen to people older than them, attend church, and a whole list of things. We are parents just plain and simple.

    I did note that 11 of the 12 boys were in either Royal Rangers or Scouts. I knew them all since I ministered to all of them since I work with both youth groups. People reap what they sow. If you invest into your children, they will grow and do well in life. “Train up a child in the way they should go and when they get old, they will not depart from it.” Just read the Bible and do what it says. I am sure other faiths state a similar idea as well.

    You don’t need a high education to figure this one out. There were decent kids in the world before scouts came around. Yes, scouting is a good group to be in or else I would not put time into it and the boys.

  8. Seems like it would be very difficult to evaluate, and quantify so many uncontrollable variables… Seems to me certain boys are attracted to the challenges of scouting and to the outdoor experiences of Boy Scouting. Those that are just grow to love it and aspire to the true spirit of scouting.. some leave; they learn to choose what matters most to them and hopefully all of them take away good life lessons and good memories no matter how long they stay…

  9. I am assuming that it is not whether there is a full time Scout exec, but rather a full unit facing professional for the Unit’s District. Right now in VT (Green Mountain Council), there are two field professionals for the entire state. I can say that this is having a direct (non-positive) effect on Unit performance (particularly recruiting and retention).

    • Exactly. Retention, possibly program offerings…but actual character development? I really see that as taught primarily in the home, secondarily in the Den – how a Scout Exec, or professional of any kind, has a measureable affect on a Cub Scout seems … implausible at best.

  10. As things stand now the B.S.A. does build good character. However, if “UNHEALTHY” life-styles are admitted into it’s ranks, and accepted, you will have increased recruiting and retention problems.

    Promoting the ACCEPTANCE of “UNHEALTHY” Behavior does not build good Character in my view!

    • Nice. That’s not what this conversation or blog posting is about, but thanks for trying to move it in that direction. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing to see here. Just move along.

  11. Pingback: Today’s Links February 21, 2013 | New York OA Trader

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