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March 20, 2005
Written by Dave Rice, 59 years in Scouting before being kicked out

For the fifth straight year youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America¹s traditional Scouting programs has declined. The drop is most marked in Cub Scouting, the program for seven-to-ten-year-old boys, which
is down 13.9% for the five-year period. Cub Scouts should transfer into Boy Scouting, which is now down 3.8%. Even Venturing, the new program for girls and boys 14 to 18 years old, after initial rapid growth has lost
membership in the last two years. Total membership in traditional programs was down 7.8%, 1999-2004.

At the end of 2004 the BSA trumpeted that it had reversed its membership decline, but achieved this only by counting participants in Learning for Life, its wholly-owned subsidiary in-school program. Traditional Scouting, as understood by those who join and lead it, has gone downhill. (In 2003 it claimed it had exceeded five million members for the first time, also only by including Learning for Life.)


Is the BSA growing as it claims? How does the BSA figure its membership statistics? Why does it nearly always publish glowing statements of increasing membership, when the reports themselves show minute gains or actual losses?

Why is BSA membership dropping, when the number of available youth is increasing? According to a report published by the federal Department of Education, ³total elementary and secondary enrollment is projected to
increase 5 percent between 2001 and 2013.² (See³Projections of Education Statistics to 2013," October 2003, by Debra E. Gerald & William J. Hussar, National Center for Education Statistics.)

Why is BSA membership declining? Are parents, who may have had great Scouting experiences themselves as youth, becoming disenchanted with the BSA¹s policies of excluding anyone, particularly homosexuals? Are certain religious groups who believe in inclusiveness finding themselves at odds with the BSA¹s stance on homosexuality? Are the BSA¹s practices of aligning the organization with conservative religious groups driving others away?

What is the BSA doing to end its declining membership?


The membership figures for the BSA for the last eight years are shown below, as reported in official Scouting literature:

1996: 3,517,817 total traditional Scouts (including Explorers)*

1997: 3,341,562 total traditional Scouts (including Explorers)*

1998 *:
2,171,987 Cub Scouts;
1,023,442 Boy Scouts;
188,010 Venturers;
3,383,439 total traditional Scouts

2,181,013 Cub Scouts, up 0.4%;
1,028,353 Boy Scouts, up 0.5%;
202,486 Venturers, up 7.7%;
3,411,852 total traditional members, up 0.8%

2000 **:
2,114,405 Cub Scouts, down 2.4%;
1,003,681 Boy Scouts, down 2.0%;
233,828 Venturers, up 15.7%;
3,351,914 total traditional members, down 1.2%.
(With 1,588,879 Learning for Life participants; grand total 4,941,957 youth)

2001 **:
2,043,478 Cub Scouts, down 3.4%;
1,005,592 Boy Scouts, up 0.2%;
276,434 Venturers, up 18.2%;
3,325,504 total traditional members, down 0.8%
(With 1,697,701 Learning for Life participants; grand total 5,023,205 youth)

2002 **:
2,000,478 Cub Scouts, down 2.1%;
1,010,791 Boy Scouts, up 0.5%;
293,323 Venturers, up 14.1%;
3,304,592 total traditional members, 0.0% **
(with 1,721,957 Learning for Life participants; grand total 5,026,549 youth)

1,914,425 Cub Scouts, down 4.3%;
997,398 Boy Scouts, down 1.3%;
288,395 Venturers, down 1.7%;
3,200,218 total traditional members, down 3.2%
(with 1,555,226 Learning for Life participants; grand total 4,755,444 youth)

1,878,752 Cub Scouts, down 2%;
988,995 Boy Scouts, down 0.9%;
280,584 Venturers, down 2.7%;
3,145,331 total traditional members, down 1.7%
(with 1,680,522 Learning for Life participants; grand total 4,825,853 youth)

Cumulative figures, 1999 to 2004: Cub Scouting down 12.2%, Boy Scouts down 3.0%, Venturing up 42.4%, total traditional members down 6.2%.


* Figures from before 1998 are not comparable with years after, because Exploring was divided between Venturing and Learning for Life in that year.

** Membership figures for 2000, 2001, and 2002 have been ³restated to show the effects of local council membership audits²; restated figures for earlier years and for 2003 are not available; 2004 has not yet been

Membership figures above are compiled from three Boy Scouts of America publications: National Membership/Participation Reports for December of various years ProSpeak (a publication for professional Scouters (paid executives)), from various January issues Boy Scouts of America Annual Reports for 2001, 2002, and 2003 (reports which by law must be given to Congress and are distributed to the National Council in its annual meetings in May or June of each year)




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