Study confirms what we already know: Scouting is good for you

BSA file photo by Jeff Hattrick

A new analysis of an old study corroborates what we’ve been saying for decades: The benefits of Scouting really do last a lifetime.

“Children who took part in (organizations) such as the Scouts … were more likely to report higher levels of general health at age 50, compared to their peers, a study has found,” says one news report.

“As children, being a Scout … famously taught you to be prepared. Now it seems the benefits last a lifetime,” says another.

“Duh,” we say.

All kidding aside, we always welcome yet more evidence that Scouting is good for you.

(And no, this isn’t the first time the benefits of Scouting have been confirmed by science. A 2016 study confirmed that Scouting builds character in six areas. One year later, a different study linked Scouting with better mental health later in life.)

The latest study, conducted by scientists from Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, who were in turn analyzing data from a study that started in the 1950s, shows that adults who were Scouts as children in the 1950s and 1960s were 35% more likely than their peers to report being in excellent health after they turned 50.

Where the data comes from

The Aberdeen Children of the 1950s study, conducted by the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, is a fascinating study in and of itself. It captured data from more than 12,000 families with kids born in the 1950s in Aberdeen and looked at how they lived, what they did for fun, how they did in school and generally how healthy they were.

At least some of them, it turns out, were Scouts.

In the 1990s, a study followed up with more than 7,000 of those kids-turned-adults to see how their lives were turning out. Again, they were asked about their current health, along with many other topics.

The same group of people have contributed to multiple tests in the years since.

The goal of the original study was to discover the causes of learning disabilities. But the data is so expansive and so wide ranging that other researchers have used it to investigate all kinds of other aspects of life.

As far as we can tell, it was the University of Edinburgh researchers, however, who were the first to crunch the numbers on Scouting.

Page 16 of the Aberdeen Children of the 1950s questionnaire asked if boys belonged to “Cubs” or “Scouts.” Photo from of the University of Aberdeen

What the data tells us

Over the years, participants in the Children of the 1950s study were asked to rank their health over the previous 12 months as either excellent, good, fair or poor. Those who were active as kids in Scouts or Girl Guides were about 35% more likely to rank their health as excellent at or after age 50, compared to their peers who took part in different activities as kids.

“Given the importance societies place on ensuring good health in later life, supporting youth programs that are delivered by charities and supported by volunteers may represent a cost-effective way of improving population health,” says University of Edinburgh professor and researcher Chris Dibben.

“Skills learned while a Scout or Guide – such as leadership, confidence and working as a team – were transferrable to work in later life,” according to one article. “This in turn, had beneficial effects on health.”

You can pore through the data yourself, as the most recent study was published in the European Journal of Public Health. Or, if you prefer, you can browse the data collected in the original Children of the 1950s study.

Data from the University of Edinburgh study on Scouts in the Aberdeen of the 1950s study. We don’t know exactly what it means, other than “club membership” is where Scouting comes in, and it increases the chances of you ending up with improved general health. Photo from the University of Edinburgh
About Aaron Derr 226 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.