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?

  1. Yeah, I’m going with the more difficult requirements (e.g. project and MBs like communications, personal management and family life). I don’t buy so much the argument about programming. Kids have always had tons of opportunities.

  2. Until the early 1960 a scouts journey was over as a Boy Scout at 14 and he had to graduate to an explorer program. Many earned the necessary metit badges and got their Eagle before moving up or out which was the direction many used to go. When the new Ex[lorer/Venture program began and the membership in a regular Scout troop was extended to 18 years of age the pressure to finish was off and the added requirements slowly raised the age because boys at that age just don’t see the value in getting things done befor the dead lo

  3. The comparison is invalid, Byran. Here’s why.
    First, it’s not the age of the young man at the time of earning Eagle which should be compared; rather it is the *length of time* from the time they joined Scouting until they earn Eagle which should be compared and studied.

    We have a LOT of young men who will join Scouting at age 10.5 and take two years and a bit more (12.8) to earn Eagle. We have them, but the BSA doesn’t acknowledge them because it’s “not a race to see who can earn Eagle the fastest — but rather that the feat has been accomphished!

    More than those Scouts, however, are those who will start work toward Eagle and stall out at age 14 or 15 (well before the “fumes” that many have referred to here) for a variety of reasons. They’ll leave Scouting and return to Scouting at somewhere around 16 or in many cases 17 and ask for extensions to meet everything before they turn 18.

    Their TOTAL TIME SPENT as a Scout, therefore, is only between 2 and three quarters (2.9) and 3 to 3.9 years. They join at 11 or so, leave at 13 or 14, and come back at 17 (if we’re that lucky — most come back at 17.6 and ask for that extension — and get it!)

    Then they leave right the medal’s pinned (or mailed) and we don’t hear from them again (which is why the National Eagle Scout Association is working hard to locate all of those Eagle Scouts who “outgrew the nest”.)

    Some observations:

    - Most Eagle Scouts today have no firm clue as to what their value is. Since they had little time to develop that value in a Troop after they have earned Eagle; and little time in developing that value after they left the Troop and perhaps working at summer camp or something similiar

    - Most Eagles view earning Eagle as “something I need to place on an application because I’ve been told that Eagles get looked at; others don’t”. Most of their parents view this in the same way.

    - Employers and college folk are looking at QUALITIES of an Eagle Scout moreso than the mere “title” on a piece of paper. I tell new Eagle Scouts that “anyone can purchase a $30 medal on eBay, a $3 patch and proclaim that they are an “Eagle Scout” and most people won’t even question it. It it what YOU DO which distinguishes you from those wannabes and forces people to not only confirm but also believe that you ARE an Eagle Scout

    - Whether it takes 21, 24 (in my personal case) or 50 merit badges; and whether or not you had to do a service/leadership project — the fact remains that Eagles spend time helping others to get up to the nest to fly off… most of our Eagles today do not do this.

    So the question should be reframed into “the length of time taken to earn Eagle back in the day as opposed to today”. You’ll find as I’ve have — that the time is about the same, give or take a month or two.

    It is what the Eagle DOES AFTER HE EARNS EAGLE which should be a source of concern.

    • Excellent comment. My son achieved Eagle rank, re-certified his BSA Lifeguard to do swim tests for his troop, volunteered over 100 hours with his former high school marching band this summer & worked as a lifeguard/swim instructor at the YMCA. He hasn’t had time to do his own Eagle court of honor but is honnoring the ranck.

  4. My son was the first Eagle in our troop that was not 17 at the time of earning Eagle in at least the prior 6 years. He was often told “Don’t worry, you have plenty of time”. His bridge project at 15 was held to a higher standard than a bridge project for a 17.5 yo scout. “Revise this, don’t worry, you have plenty of time…” The thing is, kids don’t have time to wait. Every year of high school is busier than the one before. We would lose senior scouts who would get Life, then disaapear for two years and get pushed thru to Eagle when they came back at age 17.5. The scouts believed they could not get Eagle before 17 as that was the unwritten, but understood, philosophy of the troop. This does not help retention. It does not help create a cadre of leaders for the younger scouts. It does not create a visual goal for the younger scouts (I want to be Eagle like so and so…). I don’t support pushing through unprepared candidates. But we need to support the ones who are ready.

  5. What does it matter the age when they get their Eagle as long as they get it. I got mine in 1992 but I worked a job, was super active in school, band, and other activities. AS long as the scout wants to get the Eagle, I don’t think the age should matter. As for the parents they need to encourage but not push the scout too hard. If it is a priority they will finish it. I think we should be glad to see scouts stick around until they age out. Many drop out after a few years. I was in a very small troop so staying active in small units is hard too. Also finding dedicated and consistent adult leadership can be challenging. I was lucky to have only 2 scoutmasters in 7 years.

  6. They do take longer, and I think it’s a good thing. Back when I was in Scouting, and there were “time in grade” requirements for all ranks, I figured out that I could make Eagle in two years, by age 13. But I believe that most who make Eagle that young — or even before age 15 — don’t get all that they can out of Scouting.

  7. My son just made Life scout at age 13. We just joined a new troop and we were discussing my son’s Eagle project idea. Now, he has 3 more badges to complete, and his leadership requirement, but we were throwing around ideas. Already, I have been told, “I wouldn’t start him on that for a long, long time.” so I would absolutely agree that adults nowadays are discouraging boys from finishing young. I was also told by another parent that if a boy makes Eagle by 14, then people assume that the parents did the work, not the boy. I think this completely invalidates motivated kids. I know my son will be distracted by girls in no time, and I will support him moving forward at his own pace, regardless if that is fast or slow. This is about him.

  8. I earned my Eagle at age 17 and 10 months old, but wasn’t able to have the Court of Honor till almost a year later due to a move in between. The program has changed greatly since I first joined the scouts. Back then they had Skill awards, and Merit Badges didn’t help with advancement until First class IIRC. Then I got caught out when the current program (which I believe spread the skill award requirements through the first three ranks, so that you can earn them very quickly). The only requirements I struggled with were swimming, largely due to low muscle and fat mass making floating hard during my early scout years, I also was heavily involved in Sports, Ran Cross Country and Track, Wrestled 2 years in and Marching and Concert bands in high School. But while they took time, I still made it to most meetings, I think I was trying to have consistent growth, which really was what was the expectation from our Troop early on. I saw so many boys earn so many badges early they were star or life well before I was even First class, and then they flamed out and never made it to eagle. One boy, I believe had an injury and then just never got back to it in time to get his if memory serves, making me the only one of my class upon entry to our troop to make it to eagle. 1 out of 4 at that.

  9. I don’t know about other Scouts, but I can tell you why mine did. All three of them served at least two 6-month terms as Senior Patrol Leader in very boy-led troops. Their own advancement pretty much stopped dead while they were busy leading the troop. In addition, each of them had at least two projects fall out from under them (benefiting organizations changing their minds or not understanding and waiting for the approval process). On the other hand, they did almost everything in Scouting that you could do–National Jamboree (twice each), NOAC, Philmont, camp staff, OA ceremonies teams and lodge officers (and one lodge chief), etc., and enjoyed every minute of it (in fact they literally cried when they turned 18). My fourth earned Life at a younger age (14) than his brothers, but we had a protracted move which has held him back, even though he’s currently registered as a Lone Scout. We’re gearing back up this fall with a troop, and he still can earn Eagle with enough time for several Palms, something his brothers didn’t have enough time left for after earning Eagle. The youngest is newly bridged over from Cub Scouts, and both have watched their older brothers, learning from their experiences.

  10. My son earned Eagle a month after his 16th birthday. I think for him it was an appropriate age and HE made the decision to do so. He halted most extracurricular activity in school (school sports) his sophmore year so he could focus more on his grades and completing his Eagle scout. His project was awesome and had been told what a huge undertaking he had accomplished. He now can enjoy the last 2 years and help others achieve Eagle. Without the focus on requirements he is enjoying himself more and has also started participating and enjoying activities with Venture Crew.

  11. So much is based on how they choose to spend their time. Do you spend an
    hour a day on a badge or project before you spend 2 hours on the Wii ?
    Don’t want to be too harsh on today’s youth (or video games), but we all know how video games have given our young men a false sense of accomplishment.
    Why work hard on something when I can save the world in just minutes.
    Also, there is so much more to do in Scouts after you finish Eagle. There are other
    service awards and Palms. Maybe we need to encourage them to look beyond
    the goalpost.

  12. Complexity. The fundraising and paperwork process for your eagle project is stressful, confusing, and you need someone to guide you through the project workbook. It discourages the “get’er done” attitude most boys have when they begin because its not 14-17 year old friendly.

    • Greg,
      The new workbook is a bit friendlier than the old one. You just need a very basic outline of your project not a full blown plan. You still need to do the full blown plan but the concept is what gets approved. The full blown plan is reviewed by the BoR after the project is completed. That said, your point is taken.

  13. how silly your answers are. it doesnt matter. each youth is different and the role of a leader, parent, or mentor, is to help each one succeed at the youth’s pace. Or, are those statistics something that boy scout professionals worry about – you know the “numbers”?

    yes, i am an eagle scout, class of 1976

  14. I have worked with scouts for about 10 years now and see that many scouts seem to take a break for about 2.5-3 years at around age 14. By then most have completed all the non-requried merit badges they need and 10 of the 12 required. They have already earned their Life Rank by then and have completed their leadership requriement- and then they take a break. For whatever reason, they stop earning merit badges, especially the “personal”s, slow down their participation, find excuses not to go to camp, and basically let the middle/high school mentality kick in that scouts is childish. But by age 17, they realize the importance and kick themselves back in gear before its loo late. It seems a shame to lose those 2.5-3 years, but I have found that if they get their Eagle before this happens, they hang around and pass on their knowledge to the younger scouts because that is still cool.So why not do everything we can to help them earn it before they decide to take the break? There is no maturity requirement factored in the handbook, so lets get over that, give them a mentor to help get the paperwork done and help them earn their Eagle by 15, and let them take the break they need. Eagle scouts find thier way home eventually, some faster than others and then they are an asset to the unit. I think sometimes we scout leaders are our own worst enemies when we try to put our personal values on the worth of an older Eagle and try to slow their tempo. Or we try to hold onto them longer instead of encouraging their success and subsequent transition to Venturing so we can maintain our quality unit numbers. If we are going to lose them, why not lose them as Eagles to Venturing- than as Life’s who lost the motivation to endure our timeline.

  15. A couple of reasons, mostly that there was no service project requirement in 1949, nor really any until after 1972.

    As Baden-Powell intended from the beginning, First Class is the primary rank in the Scouting movement. From my copy of the the 1948 Handbook for Boys , all a Scout needed to then get the Eagle “Award” was to get the required 21 merit badges and “His record of satisfactory service as a Life Scout have been for a period of at least six months”.

  16. I was told by a Scout Executive, ” Do the BSA Program. If someone becomes Eagle at 12 and leaves the Program, good. Why have someone around for years that doesn’t really care.”

    I am troubled by so many Scouts who are frustrated that they were forced to wait for Eagle. Their Scoutmasters saw it as a graduation out of scouting. They are not involved in scouting as adults.

    And, I am confused by adults who have to make up all these rationalization to justify not approving an Eagle before say age 16. They are lying to themselves and others.

    How hard is it to just do the BSA Program?

  17. In my troop, we have banned the phrase “Eagle Out” and have changed it to “Eagle On”. A number of scouts who have earned their Eagle in the 14-15 year old range have stuck around. Now that the pressure is off to earn badges, they are enjoying their time as mentors to younger scouts, take part in activities or badges that interest them and earn Eagle palms from the their “extra” merit badges. We encourage them to take advantage of staff opportunities and high adventure opportunities, as well as, involvement in the Order of the Arrow if they are members. Perhaps what has them most excited is if they are 16 and have earned their Eagle, they can become Jr. Asst. Scoutmasters which entitles them to cook and eat with the adult patrol on camping trips. We actually have scouts counting down the days to the first camping trip after their 16th birthday.

  18. There are a myriad of reasons, but the major one are:
    1. The internet and video games
    2. More of them are involved in multiple activities, such as sports and other clubs
    3. More and more are from broken homes which makes it difficult for there to be a consistent approach to getting anything done.

  19. I’m one of those who made it at 17 yrs and 11 months (roughly 25 years ago). It wasn’t procrastination on my part. It was a troop that was a bit dysfunctional my last few years. I completed Life and my Eagle Project at 15. I spent the remaining 2.5 years trying to find MB counselors for my last two MB’s. If it weren’t for a change of adult leadership in the troop (who then found me those last to MB counselors), I wouldn’t have been able to finish the requirements on time.

    As for today, a lot of what I see is a combo of what’s already mentioned: The three W’s (women, wheels, work), sports, other activities and old fashion procrastination.

  20. My son’s Eagle project was delayed 9 months due to the red tape involved by the public entity he was providing a service to. Too many who claimed to be in charge that weren’t. He persisted until he discovered the true “chief” to gain approval for the placement of his project. He truly learned a great deal with his project about bureaucrats and being persistent. I am glad he started early and proud that he overcame the obstacles involved.
    I also believe many of these young men are involved in multiple activities. Deadlines work well to motivate them.

  21. My oldest son recently earned his Eagle at 17.9. He hit all his other ranks right on schedule and when he made Life, I told him to “enjoy Scouting.” That is what he did: he was active and continued earning merit badges. He also hated paperwork and the Eagle project is a lot of paperwork.
    He had some starts and stops, but at 17 I started asking him for a commitment. He had to start paperwork over because the new form came out in 2012. I handed him his personal profile from our Council and he was responsible to fill both the porject workbook and application. He had me look over his work (I was also his committee chair) and point out errors or omissions (which I did and do for other Eagle candidates). He struggled with the paperwork and at one point the snowball started rolling down the hill at breakneck speed. Again, he ignored the final paperwork for a good two months. Finally, he got it in and his board of review.
    At one point I asked him if I did him a disservice by encouraging him to enjoy scouting. “No, I wasn’t mature enough back then. Working on the Eagle helped me to mature.” Sweeter words never came to my ears. We are glad that he did the work and the paperwork for his Eagle and I have encouraged other parents to do that rather than filling out even the application for their son.
    In general, I don’t believe young men are as mature as they were 100 years ago. Living on a farm and the unavoidable work connected to a farm are not common nowadays. Many young men either helped to support themselves or their family financially at earlier ages. I also see many young scouts who haven’t really mastered the skills they were signed off on for the first three ranks. Many of those skills were used more commonly in every day life–but are still used around the house and in the wilderness.
    Earning an Eagle is not the end purpose of being a Scoutmaster, committee member or parent. Most life skills are earned by first class. Let the young man, not the parents or troop be the drive for an Eagle. Let them self-initiate, let them problem-solve, let them start again, let them commit, let them own the Eagle.

  22. There are so many more opportunities to do more things which pull scouts away from the scouting program which forces them to multitask and require more time for advancement.

  23. I’ve seen this for awhile now…
    What I believe is that unfortunately a lot of our scouts, just don’t want to be identified as scouts, like they did back then.
    Sure if you ask a Scout if they’re in scouts they will admit it. But when was the last time you saw a Boy Scout, in their full Class A, Uniform, at school? You also had more interest because there wasn’t as much Media intrusion(TV, News Paper, Computers, Cell Phones, Internet)
    Plus the country was much more Patriotic, and worried about being Drafted, so they wanted to finish before they were ever called.

    • Take heart Todd! My son just became an Eagle Scout at 17 years and 11 months. He has proudly worn his uniform to school. He knew other students would think it was not cool but he did not care what they thought. He was proud to be a Boy
      Scout and proud to wear the uniform. As it turns out, not a
      single student made fun of him. As to why it took him so long?
      He just was not ready for the responsibility. We, his parents,
      pushed him a bit but he was the one to finally decide when he
      was ready.

  24. I think so many boys are taking so much longer, because attaining the rank of Eagle Scout in American society is not as glamorous as it used to be, the rank of Eagle Scout has more requirements (a good thing) than it used to, and the rank of Eagle Scout sets the highest standard of character possible.

    Superior character and citizenship wasn’t as hard to find in years past. Building superior character and citizenship in today’s drought of good citizenship and attacks on quality character takes longer than it used to.

  25. TOO many distractions, ie: computers, games etc. that take up there time. Then it comes to the Girls, Jobs and more demanding school work. As the generations change so do what is important. I made eagle in 1977 at 16 my son made eagle in 2004 at 16. I worked hard to keep his focus, but once he went to Philmont and NSJ his focus changed and he was Eagle Bound. I did not have the community and Nation beating down the BSA as he did. I might have been made fun of once in a while but, at the end they were just a pround of me as my family. The rules and regulations that the BSA was forced to put in place because of Law Suite took alot of FUN out of the program. I am still in scouting after 43 yeas of service.

  26. For starters, I’ll state that there is no age requirement for the Eagle rank and until National decides to impose one any Troop or Scoutmaster who tries to impose one is wrong. Absolutely wrong.

    So some young men make Eagle at 14, or thereabouts, and then “Eagle Out” of the program. Why do they do this?
    1. Fumes. They get distracted, and were going to leave anyways. But if they get Eagle first, then we say they “Eagled Out”. How does that make sense?
    2. High School. Sports, activities, and homework eat away at a young man’s time. He was going to leave anyways, but since he has his Eagle first then we blame the rank. Why?
    3. Parents. Don’t overlook this. Mom & Dad encouraged that young man to earn that Eagle rank, and now they’re encouraging him to do something else. See above. Don’t blame the rank.
    4. Council & Troop program. Does your summer camp interest your older boys? Does your Troop program tempt their interests? If summer camp is seen as being for younger Scouts, and your unit’s program plan doesn’t entice the older boys to stay, then why are you blaming them?
    5. O.A. Some Scoutmasters resent the O.A. (and Venturing) for drawing off the older Scouts, especially the Eagles, to “do something else”. But, honestly, they wouldn’t be drawn off if there was something for them “at home”. So don’t blame the organizations, or the rank, look at yourself.

    If you have a young Scout who is on fire to earn his Eagle rank by his 14th birthday, and has set this goal for himself (with or without parental encouragement) then your challenge as a Scoutmaster is to harness this firebolt. Don’t let the moment slip past, and blame the rank. Don’t stifle the young man’s goal for your own selfish reasons.

    • Many Troops and Scoutmasters in my area “add” a minimum age requirement or a “leadership” requirement as hurdles to Eagle Scout rank to prevent advancement before the (in their opinion) “right” age. I have seen this discourage Scouts and enhance distracting activities, so some boys leave Scouting having never earned Eagle Scout rank.

      • I have seen this discourage many scouts too. Rank advancement, just like merit badges, can’t have anything added to or subject from them unless approved at the council level. I’ve worked with two special needs scouts who attained their eagle scout well after 18. Even with a clearly special needs scout I had to submit information about why some rank advancements had to be modified or changed. I hope the troops and scoutmasters around the nation get more training about this.

      • I know this happens. I know this is wrong. It hurts the boys, it hurts the Troops, and it hurts the program.

        Sometimes this is done subtly, just “suggesting” that the boy wait a little bit or maybe talking with the parents to explain why “he should wait another year”. Regardless, the damage is done. It is hard to fight “subtle” unless you’re alert to it.

        Sometimes this is done overtly, through a Troop or Scoutmaster policy. It is easier to fight this. An appeal to the District or Council level generally is all it takes. But if Mom & Dad don’t know that the Scoutmaster’s rule isn’t exactly “the final word” they might not push the issue.

  27. As an Eagle myself, I enjoyed my climb up the Eagle mountain and was a Second Class Scout for two years. I know there are many parts to scouting I missed out on, however I am now also a Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow, received the Founders Award in the Order of the Arrow, and did have enough time to ‘over achieve’ with a bronze palm for my Eagle rank.

    I have told many scouts through the past years of working a summer camp that I do not respect rushing the journey and not enjoying your own personal achievements because you were too young to appreciate the accomplishments.

  28. I think there are a lot more distractions. Most high schools now require a kind of “service project”, there is pressure to be involved in a variety of extra-curricular activities that can be used as “resume points” on college applications. As has been mentioned, there’s been a lot of bad media for the program and more boys and some parents are less enthusiastic about admitting affiliation with such an upstanding group. That Eagles are getting their award in the last months of their eligibility indicates there are probably a lot of parents pushing them at the last minute to complete the requirements before they are rendered ineligible.

  29. The ultimate adventure of camping in the Boy Scouts of America, the boy is searching for in the National Camping School emblem, encompasses more than a rank.

  30. More extracurricular activities. Social networking and other technologies also serve as distractions. Lack of support can also be a factor.

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