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.

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

    • Lots of reasons, mostly all the technology and other options for stuff to do out there. School activities, sports, etc so Scouting takes a back seat. By 16 they are driving and have boyfriends/girlfriends. Gotta get it before 16 or you lose a lot of them

  1. the question isn’t how old they are when they get Eagle, but how long they are a Life Scout. I suspect the average age of a Life Scout hasn’t changed much. Right around 13 1/2-14. I think parents are recognizing the value of Scouting, and know that once a kid makes Eagle, the phrase “Eagled Out” comes in to play. In the green scout shirt days, kids that were Eagles hung around.

    Now, for better or worse, Scouting doesn’t draw the “high functioning” kids the way it did 50 years ago. We get a greater percentage of kids with “issues” than we used to, so it takes those kids longer to make it.

    Or it could all be because of global warming. Take your pick.

  2. I believe the reason is many fold; an increase in the amount of varied opportunities available to young people (school sports, extracurricular school clubs & organizations), the practice of some Scout leaders to hold back Scouts because they are not “mature” enough in their slanted opinions, and most importantly Scouts procrastination and holding themselves back.

  3. I would like my sons to earn it earlier (the first of my 6 sons earned Eagle at age 16 1/2). My third son, age 12 and a First Class scout, already has a timeline and would like to earn it at 14. However, his father (one of the assistant scoutmasters) seem to think Scouts need to be older in order to handle leading a successful Eagle project. Even at our district summer camp, most of the Eagle-required badges offered were only available to ages 14 and up. I think if a boy is motivated to work through the ranks at his own pace, let him excel!

    • Elizabeth,
      On this subject I seem to agree with the father on this one. I have been in the scouting program for over 10 years (Mind you I’m 18) I have run 3 youth leadership training conferences, so I know first hand that true leaders come to us at all ages, Even so, in all my years of scouting never once have I seen a Prepared, Mature-enough, Leader, at the young age of 14. I earned my Eagle Scout rank at the age of 15 and even that is slightly young. Even with my opinion I mean no disrespect to you or your son, Every person is different. He is on a pathway to a great, high honor, that will open a life-time of opportunity. I wish him good luck.

    • Elizabeth, I believe you are partly correct. A Boy should work at his own pace. However, there is something to be said for holding them back just a bit so that they mature into it. I believer you Husband makes a valid point about handling a succwessful Project a littlr past 14.

  4. In 1949, the only requirement was to earn 21 merit badges. The question would be more meaningful if it tracked from 1965 when the service project and troop leadership requirements were added; changes since have been minor.

      • Thanks for that clarification. Our scoutmaster recently gave my son an old handbook and we were comparing the changes made over the years. The path to Eagle is far more complex than it used to be. Then again, some of the skill sets required of some of the badges have been simplified over the years, too.

    • I was about to ask how comparable those two numbers really are. If we’re getting into details like age, we should keep it comparable with relate-able requirements. How about we track the number over five or ten-year increments, as well as percentage of scouts getting Eagle and standard deviation of the age calculation.

      And why was 60 years ago picked for this statistic? It’s the 100th Anniversary, so I would have expected 50 years ago. Was it because 60 is the oldest ‘good data’ on hand or was it because it was a much younger age than 50 years ago, making a more exciting story?

  5. I think the first two reasons have been around for a while – fumes; perFUME and carFumes. But young people now have more thnigs pulling at their time than I (and many of us) did when their age; schools, sports, technology, the internet. I had church, cows and school. I have yet to find many (NOT ANY) coaches that think scouts is an ok reason to miss practice, even though it works ok the other way so the boys have to make a choice, I guess we can be grateful they are still deciding to get it even if it takes them a little longer.

    • I didn’t make eagle until I was about 17 and 11 months (though I’d been working on it for a year before hand). And the trick is with coaches and school function directors is to not give them a choice. Scouting is a very valuable program in my opinion, more-so than any school activity. I was in my school’s marching band for all 4 years of high school, and when it got to be crunch time for my scouting career I made sure the director knew that HE was on borrowed time.

  6. Unsaid here, is the lack of encouragement, or active discouragement. What do I mean? I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard a scout told to “slow down” don’t be in a hurry, why do you want to make eagle before you’re 17? Often, I’m sure, with the best of intentions. We have established 17 as the target date, rather than when the scout wants to achieve it….to the disservice of our youth and the failure of our mission.
    What I’ve seen now, in observing the “younger” eagles or the higher achievers is that they are often involved in many outside activities from sports to academics. They’re self driven to achieve. Compare the Eagle project of a 17 year old building 2 benches at a park to the 14 year old co-ordination relief to Haiti or building a massive pavillion for the enjoyment of others. It just seems that the Eagle projects I read about in the paper for 14-15 year olds are far more impactful and ambitious than the 17 1/2 year old who’s in a hurry to finish up before his 18th turns him into a pumpkin.
    But far too often we fail our mission as adults. We should not try for equality of outcome (everyone eagle at 17 1/2 who sticks around) but to insure the maximum opportunity for scouts to achieve whatever they seek. No cutting corners…but no adding roadblocks. Its should be a Trail to Eagle…not a trial. In doing so we’ll build better men for the future, and show them adults really care about their hopes, dreams…and their outcome.

    • Damon, I would challenge your assessment of 14 yr old Eagle Projects vs 17 yr old Eagle Projects. Could it be that at 14, parents are still very involved in guiding their sons, and by 17 boys are much more independent? I don’t have experience with many Eagle Projects, but with the few that I have seen, the younger one’s are very suspect.:)

  7. I have noticed the boys in my sons troop taking a long time to complete eagle required merit badges. They have plenty of non-eagle. In fact, we have three boys who have halted at their current ranks for 18 months and we try to motivate them at every turn. Some seem more motivated by seeing younger scouts surpass them. My son is 12 and will earn his Life rank next month, he has motivated one of the boys who halted at First Class to pick up his pace a bit!

  8. I think it’s hard to analyze this question properly without knowing all the facts. First of all, how many Eagle Scouts earned that rank in 1949 and 2011? What is the break-down by age for those 2 years (and other years, too). Without having this information, I think that speaking as a parent of an Eagle Scout, and as a Scoutmaster, that a) young people have far more activities at school than ever before; b) there is more pressure to get into college and have Eagle Scout on your application (and thus the final push to get it done just before the college application process ; c) programs get stale – and Scouts need new activities e.g. fresh program or venturing; d) girls.

  9. Our expectation of them academically is way above and beyond what it was in 1965. We have middle schoolers taking high school classes. In high school, they are really pushed to take either AP or Duel Enrollment classes. We have quite a few completing their Associate’s Degree when they graduate from high school. All this combined with the back to back booking of our kids so that they are busy has to have had an effect on the age to complete Eagle. But I would also like to see how the requirements have changed over the years as well.

  10. I am a 19 year old “recent” Eagle. I have to say that for me it was a combination of work, school and other extracurricular activities that caused me to be 17 when I made Eagle.

    I am also a firm believer that with the amount of troops that seem to be pushing boys through the program, just to say they have more Eagles, diminishes the program. I feel that in today’s program the majority of 14 and 15 year old Eagles, also lack the maturity to accept the rank, unlike those from the 40′s-80′s. Times are changing and I am confident that the age at which you receive Eagle has less to do with it than your level of maturity.

  11. In out troop we are seeing a trend down from the 17.9 year olds. We probably had five out of the last seven just make it. (My own son included). Now there is a core of motivated boys, in some cases younger brothers of the Eagles, that are keeping a steady pace of advancement. Either they experienced the stress of the other boys or our program is now better organized. We offer classes for the citizenship merit badges every year and encourage the boys to take Eagle-required badges at summer camp. Having a strong Life-to-Eagle counseler has made a big difference also. The troop has grown from 12 to 60 in the last four years so we have plenty of boy leadership positions available which also helps both advancement and maturity leading to Eagle.

  12. It’s all about options! Scouts have many more things competing for their time – band/orchestra, sports and part-time jobs, to name just a few. We never ask a Scout to make a choice between Scouting and other activities. As a Scoutmaster, we expect Scout attendance to be cyclic and encourage a balance of activities. In the long run, this leads to a more well-rounded Scout and better prepares them for life after Scouting.

  13. Why would a scout want to become a “young” Eagle when they overhear 14yr.old Eagles being told “I think fourteen is too young to be an Eagle. At fourteen, your just too young to have the leadership skills to be an Eagle”. The Eagle Scout explains that he met all the requirements and tells of his grand-sized project and that he has enough badges for two palms, etc. Still the Scouters concur that he is just too young to be an Eagle. I’m thinking “He is an Eagle Scout and who are we to validate or not validate it. ” I piped-up…”You sure served like a fine Eagle today on my Cub Day Camp Staff! You have great maturity!”

    The program produced a fine young man willing to serve beyond filling a requirement and WE MUST STOP SAYING AGE HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH BEING AN EAGLE SCOUT! Fourteen was good enough in 1949, why are we questioning it now?

    I honestly think some boys just take a break for a while and then come back to finish after turning sixteen just so the are not “young” Eagles who have to prove anything to anyone.

  14. It may have something to do with technology. But in my honest opinion, I think scouts should wait until they are older because of all the life lessons. A 14 year old kid may not get the same outlook as a 17 year old did. Just my $.02

  15. I will not speak for any others, but I could have been an Eagle when I was 14. I chose to put on the breaks and spend more time helping others, taking on leadership roles and doing more than just meeting the minimum book requirements.

  16. One explanation may lie with employment. 60 years ago the employment rate among of 16 to 19 year olds was around 48%; by 2006 that fell to 37% and with the current economic situation has dropped by another dozen percentage points. Given that the number of boys earning Eagle has increased, I think there’s a good chance that growth is just in the older bracket and perhaps more boys are sticking around longer than in 1949. This will skew the average out to the 17+.

  17. I can only speak for myself, but I could have been an Eagle at 14. Instead I chose to put on the brakes, take time to help others and take on leadership positions. I wanted to do more than just meet the minimum book requirements. When I meet a 14 year old Eagle Scout, the first thing that pops into my mind is, “when did you have time to help anyone else?” Each troop is different and opportunities for leadership and mentoring present themselves at different paces. I think a Scout should seek to be an Eagle when he feels ready to carry that weight. There is much more to Scouting than rank and the mad dash to advance has the potential to risk missing out on other things the program offers beyond merit badges and service projects.

  18. My son is a year ahead in school, and was ready for his Eagle Board of Review about a month or so before he turned 13. We were cautioned that even 13 was super early to become an Eagle, and we should at least wait until his birthday to ask for the Board of review. 12 was just way too young. His friends are all a year older, and no one seemed to think that the boys in his same grade were early. What is the big fixation with the age of a kid reaching Eagle? Our son is an only child, and as many only children are, he is quite mature. He managed his Eagle Project just fine and had helped on several over the years, so he knew how they go. Part of the maturing of being an Eagle is the leadership roles you have to fulfill before you even qualify. Putting together the project and overseeing its completion mature a boy just in the execution. The proof is in the pudding. No one should try to say a boy is not mature enough to reach for Eagle, if he has been mature enough to fulfill all of the requirements.

    We are very happy he reached Eagle before High School started, with the added academic and extracurricular activities that come along with it. And the interest in the girls… :) Very distracting!

  19. I see everyone so far has blamed the change on the boys, but what about the adults? There seems to be an attitude among adults that 14 is too young. Too young to show adequate leadership, too young for the honor.

    I know a boy who, at 12 yrs, 11 mo, had finished his merit badges, finished his project and was told by some leaders in his troop that he was too young and those leaders put roadblocks up. Other leaders disagreed. The district and council advancement committees sided with the boy and he had a successful BOR shortly before turning 13. The troop, however, split in two and has yet to recover.

    Another boy I know was told by his troop committee, just before his 13th birthday that he needed to wait 6 months for his BOR (despite having completed all of the other requirements) because they felt he needed to mature a little. Last I checked, maturity was not defined as a requirement for Eagle, and if it were, I know a boy who finished his SM conference at 17 years, 364 days, who was lacking the maturity I’d have expected of an Eagle candidate. The 13 year old didn’t argue over the maturity issue, waited the 6 months and had his successful BOR at that time.

    I have heard troop leaders from different troops say that their troop policy is not to allow boys to begin Eagle projects until they are 15 or 16 years old. I have seen 17 year olds do seriously lame projects that technically meet the requirements, but a 14 year old presenting the same project is told that he can do better and since he has plenty of time, he should make improvements or pick something else.

    Boys have to show the initiative, but their behavior, their desire to succeed is going to be a reflection of the adults around them. Instead of progressing through the ranks at the pace indicated by the requirements, (ie. length of time in a position of responsibility, time needed to complete merit badges, etc.) they are encouraged to not worry about making Eagle. It’s not important at 14 years old, don’t rush, kick back and enjoy, but then all of a sudden, he’s a junior in high school, he’s looking a colleges, scholarships, a career, etc. and his parents and leaders point out how good Eagle looks on a resume.

  20. When I got Eagle in 1978 it took until age 17.99999, 1 day before my 18 th birthday. It was not planned but did happen that way. Bach then boys were not playing on 3 or 4 sports teams, I only played one,baseball. Now days kids have multiple sports and activities to take up their time. Believe it or not some kids have admitted to me they only do certain activities or sports to please their parents. It is a much busier world for boys today, but scouting helps keep them grounded.

  21. I believe that this is completely good, healthy and normal for eagle scouts to take longer time to earn their eagle scout. Heres my reasoning: If they are taking longer then obviously they are having to work harder to get there making it all the more meaningful to Eagle Scouts like me that the fellow eagle scouts are truly earning and work as hard as i have. Secondly, I believe they should be taking this long because eagle scout is not about working for yourself towards a higher rank, but by working to serve your troop and in return obtain the rank of Eagle Scout! I personally earned my Eagle two days before my birthday, but does this make me a procrastinator? Does this make me a slacker? I dont believe so, i think that it just shows i served my troop, my lodge, and my council before myself. I Believe that it paid off also because at the age of 18 i earned the Vigil Honor, at the age of 20 i earned my first Mentor Pin. I think i did it just fine! I am proud to serve my troop and know that i have fully earned at a mature age my Eagle Scout.

  22. My friends it is just soooo many opportunities for so many other activities [or in-activities.]
    When I received my Eagle, You were “expected” to play a couple of sports [at least in my HS.]
    But the sports were much more restrictive back then, not everyone was able to play. If you weren’t good, you were cut from the Team. By the time you were old enough for Scouts, you knew whether or not you would be joining Little League.
    Now…EVERYONE has to have an opportunity to play, whether they are any good or not. We also didn’t have the volume of video games to play…not to mention that we were more interested in being outside than in front of the tube, even if it was just a game of pickle or catch.
    As an ASM for one Troop and a Committee Chair for another, I can’t tell you how many we lose during the summer months. It’s pretty tough to delever a “good” youth-run program when the majority of youre youth leadership doesn’t show-up to meetings, because they have other activities.
    Now thsat there are “Youth Leagues” for pretty much every sport, it’s even tougher. One of my Troops is brand-new so we can’t really offer anything which might be considered “High Advanture” because they are all 11yo, and their parents are still worried that they are not ready.
    So what I wind-up with during the summer is a short lesson followed by either baseball, or soccor, or something else.
    During the winter months, activities and meetings are great and well-attended.
    The parents [and most Scouts] understand the value for the long-haul…it’s getting them to make the commitment for the long-haul which is tough.

  23. Right or wrong, leaders and parents are encouraging scouts to take their time getting to Eagle (and sometimes creating troop rules that slow scouts down). Adults make verbal suggestions along the way to “slow down, you have years” and also make it more challenging to get into some of the badge programs or even leadership by age-basing some of the requirements in the troop (you have to be 14 to take this badge, forcably mixing younger boys in patrols with older so the older boys have a better opportunity to lead, having age/rank requirements for troop leadership positions).

    My main observation is that active young scouts are often happy scouts and many times stay happy and active. Inactive young scouts are not as happy with the program and drop out or don’t go for the rank advancement. Couple that with knowledge that high school sees an increase in focus on cars, dating, jobs, school work / college that a younger scout does not have.

    The focus should be on the boy. If he’s interested and ready, the troop and parents should support that. If he’s not, we should be encouraging him and making sure he knows his options and opportunities, but it’s ultimately the boy’s choice how fast (or slow) he goes.
    There are scouting opportities for older scouts (eagle or not): high adventure, venturing, leadership (JASM, SPL), Philmont/Sea Base, etc.; have them look forward to that rather than having to look forward to Eagle.

    I agree with a comment above “no cutting corners, no roadblocks”.

  24. Personally, as an Eagle Scout myself. I’ve taken a longer time to reach it because of my high involvement in school activities. I wrestled, I played in the marching band, my junior and senior year I was highly involved with my church. As these are great activities, it does take away from the time I should have spent on Eagle. I am blessed to have achieved the rank, but I wish I attained it at an earlier age.
    Another reason is the high amount of distractions each boy has nowadays. Internet, girls, friends, other extra activities. Its alot, and many boys want to be involved in their communities

  25. I think that with all the outside influences, sports, school, friends, Scouting is being pushed to the side for other pursuits. No one wants to wait till the last minute, but as long as it is done, it’s good.

  26. As one of the 17/11 Eagles from many years ago, I was actively discouraged by my Scout leader that I would not be allowed to be an Eagle before 16, was his belief that a boy needed to mature with age….and to be fair, he had seen a handful of boys hit Eagle at 16 and “Eagle Out” of the troop. My boy is starting Tiger cubs this year and I hope he makes it to Eagle someday, at his pace. Every boy is different, I think the key to a young Eagle is keeping him engaged with the troop, mentoring all the scouts, mentoring the Cubs and Webelos and working continuing to mature and learn with the troop. To this day I feel I did the troop a disservice by waiting to get my Eagle til so late….I don’t think I had one single meeting with the troop after getting my Eagle…..it was off to college and I never went back. Very happy to start all over again with my son and finally give back to the organization.

  27. I’m certainly seeing more Scouts stick around and earn Eagle than was my experience as a Scout back in the 1970′s. As I recall I was one of 3 or 4 Scouts to earn Eagle in my Troop of 40-50 Scouts during my 7 year tenure. I don’t recall having an “Eagle Mentor” or Coach helping me along the way. As Scoutmaster in a smaller Troop we’ll have that many Eagles in a typical year. Most of my friends drifted away before earning Eagle.

    With respect to the “high functioning” comment above, I’d have to disagree. In my Troop most of my Scouts are involved in Sports or Band or Theater or a combination of these. Most are active in their church youth group program. The older Scouts have part time jobs and pretty demanding school schedules with honors and AP classes. In the past 3 years we’ve had 2 fourteen year old Eagles, most are 17+. My own son sat for his Eagle BoR a month after his 17th birthday. He got serious about finishing Eagle during his 10th grade year. In eighth and ninth grade Scouts were a pretty low priority though he did go to summer camp and went camping on most of the outings. The only “incentive” I offered my son was I’d take him to Philmont if he got Eagle. We did Sea Base the summer before he finished his Eagle. We did Philmont last month, incentive delivered!

    I make the opportunities for the Scouts to advance, it is up to the Scout to take advantage of those opportunities. I won’t carry them across the finish line. I didn’t with my own son, and I certainly won’t with someone else’s. Once a Scout puts his mind to it he can finish Eagle in 6 months. Sometimes that is 6 months after earning Life, most time it is 2+ years since earning Life.

    Funny they called the 1972 rewrite the “Improved Scouting Program”. As a Scout from that era I’d hardly call it an improvement over the program I started with in 1971 as an 11 year old. Thankfully they killed that one off.

    • In editing my post above I took out the fact that only 1 Scout in my Troop aged out without earning Eagle in the last 3 years. We’ve had a couple Scouts transfer to other Troops but so far none have quit the Troop during my tenure as SM. We had 4 Scouts earn Eagle so far in 2012 with one waiting for his BoR next month. This is in a Troop with 24-30 registered Scouts the past 3 years.

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