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Gender, Diversity, and Organizational Change: The Boy Scouts vs. Girl Scouts of America

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 March 2010

Barbara Arneil
University of British Columbia. E-mail:


After growing for decades, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts both experienced a dramatic drop in membership during the 1970s. Since then their membership patterns have diverged as the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) continues to decline and the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) has reached near record numbers. These patterns raise two questions: Why the decline? And why the divergence? On the cause of decline, I argue that a younger civil rights generation, informed by a new set of post-materialist values, did not join traditional organizations like the BSA and GSUSA because their values were deemed to be outdated. The challenge for traditional organizations therefore was how to respond. Using path dependency theory, I argue that BSA and GSUSA—shaped by their own unique origins and identities—responded very differently to the critical juncture of the civil rights generation, which in turn explains the subsequent divergence in membership patterns from the 1980s onward. While the BSA rejects such changes in order to defend traditional values, the GSUSA, which established a commitment to challenging gender norms from its birth, embraces the new values and adapts virtually every aspect of its organizational identity to this new generation. As young people see themselves reflected back in the values endorsed by the GSUSA, its membership resurges, while the BSA continues to decline. I conclude by drawing out larger theoretical lessons on the meaning of change in American civil society in light of an increasingly diverse population.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2010

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