"Merit beyond the badge"

July 9, 2012

Researchers find Eagle Scouts have a positive, lasting influence.


One hundred years after Arthur Eldred of New York earned the first Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America, researchers with Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) and Program on Prosocial Behavior have released findings from a nationwide, scientific survey that demonstrates the significant, positive impact Eagle Scouts have on society -- from holding leadership positions in their workplace and neighborhood, to voting and volunteering, to protecting the environment and being prepared for emergencies.

"There is no shortage of examples or anecdotal accounts that suggest Scouting produces better citizens, but now there is scientific evidence to confirm the prosocial benefits of Scouting or earning the rank of Eagle Scout," said the study's principal investigator, Dr. Byron R. Johnson, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences, director of the Program on Prosocial Behavior and ISR co-director. "The central question of this study was to determine if achieving the rank of Eagle Scout is associated with prosocial behavior and development of character that carries over into young adulthood and beyond."

With funding from a major two-year research grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Baylor researchers with ISR's Program on Prosocial Behavior partnered with the Gallup Organization to conduct a nationwide random survey of 2,512 adult males.

Dr. Sung Joon Jang, associate professor of sociology, Baylor ISR Faculty Fellow and co-principal investigator, said analyses were conducted to see whether three groups of survey respondents -- Eagle Scouts, Scouts who did not achieve the Eagle Scout rank, and non-Scouts -- differed in responses to a series of survey questions related to the topics of wellbeing, civic engagement and character development.

The Baylor study found that Eagle Scouts -- compared to Scouts who never attained the rank of Eagle Scout and men who were never Scouts -- were significantly more likely to:

  • Exhibit higher levels of participation in a variety of health and recreational activities, such as regular exercise, outdoor recreation, attending plays and live theater, reading books, playing a musical instrument and visiting a local, state or national park;
  • Show a greater connection to siblings, neighbors, religious community, friends, coworkers, formal and informal groups and a spiritual presence in nature;
  • Share a greater belief in duty to God, service to others, service to the community and leadership, such as donating money within the last month to a religious or non-religious organization or charity, reporting volunteer time with religious or non-religious organizations, working with neighbors to address a problem or improve something, voting in the last presidential election and holding leadership positions at a workplace or local community;
  • Engage in behaviors that are designed to enhance and protect the environment, such as being active in a group that works to protect the environment, avoiding the use of certain products that harm the environment and using less water in their households;
  • Be committed to setting and achieving personal, professional, spiritual and financial goals;
  • Show higher levels of planning and preparedness, such as having a disaster supply kit in their home and emergency supplies in their car, designating a specific meeting place for family during an emergency and being CPR certified; and
  • Indicate that they have built character traits related to work ethics, morality, tolerance and respect for diversity, such as always exceeding people's expectations and doing what is right, working hard to get ahead, treating people of other religions with respect, strongly agreeing that most religions make a positive contribution to society, stating that respecting religious leaders outside of their religions is somewhat important, and showing respect to the American flag.

"Compared to Scouts and non-Scouts, Eagle Scouts exhibit significantly higher levels of health and recreation, connection, service and leadership, environmental stewardship, goal orientation, planning and preparedness, and character," said Dr. Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor and co-director of ISR.

The Eagle Scout badge has become widely recognized as a mark of distinction both within and outside of Scouting. Once earned, it is worn for life. Since it was first awarded in 1912, more than 2 million young men -- about 4 percent of Boy Scouts -- have achieved the Boy Scouts of America's highest rank.

"This research validates for the world something we've known about Eagle Scouts for years," said Bob Mazzuca, Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America. "They lead. They vote. They donate. They volunteer. They work hard and achieve their goals. In short, Eagle Scouts are exceptional men."

The full study -- "Merit Beyond the Badge" -- can be downloaded at www.baylorisr.org.

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