Study shows 4-H helps young people, their communities

Shaun Murphy

4-H helps young people improve their lives. If you know youth involved in 4-H, you’ve probably made that statement or something similar, but do we really know how 4-H positive youth development occurs? Thanks to a study conducted by Tufts University, we have research that shows just how much 4-H can impact the lives of Missouri youth. The study was conducted over an 8-year period and engaged more than 7,000 youth in annual surveys that allowed researchers to gauge trends among individual youth.

Chances are that most people reading this article have either been in 4-H or have had direct family members involved in 4-H. Most know about 4-H; however, 4-H has changed over the years to include more than “cows and cooking.” Today’s 4-H members are just as likely to learn about robotics or leadership skills as they are to learn about our still vitally-important agricultural roots.

Youth today are faced with a variety of tough decisions, decisions that can have long-lasting

consequences. Tufts University sought to track the impact of 4-H in a far-reaching longitudinal study conducted over an 8-year period. The study surveyed youth annually, starting in 5 th grade and continuing through the 12th grade.

The results of the study were remarkable. 4-H youth are 3.4 times more likely to abstain from sexual activity by the 12th grade. They are also two times less likely to smoke or drink alcohol. Not only are 4-H youth less likely to engage in risky behavior, but they are also making positive choices.

4-H youth report better grades, are nearly twice as likely to go to college, and are 2.3 times more likely to exercise and be physically active.

The study also shows that communities benefit from 4-H membership. 4-H’ers are nearly four times more likely to make contributions to their communities. Additionally, 4-H’ers are two times more likely to be civically active. 4-H membership also shows a reduced likelihood of youth engaging in criminal activity. The community benefits of 4-H are clear and far-reaching.

4-H projects and opportunities may have evolved over the years, but the methodology of what works has not. 4-H connects caring adults in mentorship capacities while creating environments where youth can grow, develop, and thrive during crucial times in their development. Youth today need positive outlets to grow and learn good decision-making skills while preparing for their future.

So what does all this mean? It means that the role of 4-H today is more important than ever. Youth are faced with increasingly difficult choices and 4-H can play a role in helping create positive environments where caring adults can impact those youth decisions. One thing is certain, the research shows that 4-H is much more than “cows and cooking” and 4-H certainly plays a vital role in the fabric of our communities.

For more information on how to join 4-H, contact your local University of Missouri Extension office, or email me at

Shaun Murphy is a county engagement specialist in 4-H serving Livingston, Grundy and Mercer Counties.