4-H Youth Development
4-H is NIFA's flagship youth development
program. It is a nonformal youth education
program open to all interested youth. Youth
participants are between the ages of 5 and
19 and reside in every demographic area—rural,
urban, and suburban. 4-H helps youth acquire
knowledge, develop life skills, and form
attitudes that will enable them to become
self-directing, productive, contributing
National 4-H enrollment statistics from
recent years are available online on the National
4-H Headquarters Web site.
Research has shown that participation in
a 4-H club makes a difference in a young
person's life. Research on the benefits of
4-H in children's lives has included:
New York 4-H Club
This 2-year study focused on understanding
the difference that 4-H club participation
makes in a young person's life and the ways
in which 4-H clubs influence and contribute
to positive youth development in New York
state . The results show that the process
of youth development is positively influenced
in many ways by 4-H club membership. Young
people who participate in 4-H clubs do better
in school; are more motivated to help others;
develop skills in leadership, public speaking,
self-esteem, communication and planning;
and make lasting friendships.
The researchers also examined the effect
of the length of time a youth remains in
4-H. Statistics indicate significant differences
between youth who remain in 4-H for 1
year and those who remain for more than that,
in the following assets and/or skills:
- Conflict resolution.
- Ability to make healthy choices.
- Knowledge of nutrition and food safety.
- Record keeping.
Responses to the open-ended question at
the end of the “Members Only” Survey
(for example, “What do you feel you
have gained from being a 4-H club member?”)
provided a wealth of rich data upon which
to draw conclusions about the difference
4-H club membership makes in a young person's
- Most club members felt they had gained
skills that would support them throughout
their lives. Many reported multiple gains
in terms of public speaking, problem solving,
goal setting, leadership skills, planning
skills, self-confidence, citizenship, communication
skills, academic gains, expanded horizons,
organizational skills, respect for (and
from) others, patience, tolerance, and “real-world” experience
from hands-on projects.
- Most youth reported they had developed
skills in leadership, public speaking,
self-esteem, communication, and planning.
- Many youth reported that 4-H club membership
had improved their school performances,
their ability to make lasting friendships,
and their desire to make a difference in
- Most adults who participated in the study
believed the success of 4-H club members
is closely related to active participation
and involvement in public demonstrations,
community service projects, and county
and state fairs. Others believed the relationships
developed in 4-H clubs and long-term membership
were the keys to positive outcomes for
Studies of Children
Involved in 4-H
A study of more than 760 4-H'ers in Pennsylvania
indicated that youth who had county leadership
experiences rated high on life skills, and
even higher when they had more leadership
experiences beyond the county level. 
A study of 400 youth involved in swine projects
in Iowa showed that 4-H youth perceived that
project participation had positive effects
on the development of their life skills.
A study of more than 50 4-H animal science
project alumni in New Jersey reported that
their 4-H experiences influenced the development
of their life skills, particularly accepting
4-H Club Leaders
In a survey of 566 4-H club leaders in Wisconsin
, researchers found that adult 4-H club leaders
perceived significant benefits of 4-H involvement,
both for children and their communities.
- Benefits to youth: psychological, social,
and intellectual development— “Learning
about caring, sharing, responsibility for
our land, community and the people we live
with helps youth become responsible adults.”
- Benefits to the community: Economic,
youth become viewed as assets, civic— “Youth
service accomplishes activities that the
community would (otherwise) have to use
tax dollars for.” 
Studies that Compare
4-H Youth with Non-4-H Youth
The strongest test of the role of 4-H in
the lives of youth is to compare 4-H'ers
to children who are not members of 4-H. Studies
- Youth who have participated in 4-H for
more than a year are significantly better
off than youth who did not participate
in the program (study of 2,500 youth in
- Participation in 4-H has a positive influence
on children's perceptions of their competence,
coping, and life skills (study of 666 Ohio
public schoolchildren). 
- 4-H'ers rate themselves higher than non-4-H
peers on working with groups, understanding
self, communicating, making decisions,
and leadership (study of more than 300
4-H club members and more than 500 non-4-H
schoolchildren in Texas). 
- For 4-H'ers, more involvement is associated
with higher scores on communication, working
with groups, and leadership. 
Sources of Research Studies:
 Mead, June, Hirschl, Thomas, Rodriguez,
Eunice, and Goggin, Steve. 1999. Understanding
the Difference 4-H Clubs Make in the Lives
of New York Youth: How 4-H Contributes to
Positive Youth Development.
 Cantrell, Joy, Anne L. Heinsohn, and
Melanie K. Doebler. 1989. “Is it Worth
it? Going Beyond the Local 4-H Club.” Journal
of Extension. 27(1).
 Gamon, Julia, and Pedro Dehegedus-Hetzel.
1994. “Swine Project Skill Development.” Journal
of Extension. 32(1)
 Ward, Carol Knowlton. 1996. “Life
Skill Development Related to Participation
in 4-H Animal Science Projects.” Journal
of Extension. 34(2)
 Source: Taylor-Powell, Ellen, Greg Hutchins
, and Robyn Reed. 1997. Community Service:
What 4-H Youth Groups Do to Make a Difference.
University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension.
 Miller, Jeffrey P. and Blannie E. Bowen.
1993. “Competency, Coping, and Contributory
Life Skills Development of Early Adolescents.” Journal
of Agricultural Education. Spring: 68-76.
 Boyd, Barry L., Don R. Herring, and
Gary E. Briers. 1992. “Developing Life
Skills in Youth: How 4-H'ers Perceive their
Leadership.” Journal of Extension.
 Astroth, Kirk , and Haynes, George.
2002. “More than cows and cooking:
Newest research shows the impact of 4-H.” Journal
of Extension. Vol. 40, #4, August 2002.
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