October 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 5 // Research in Brief // 5RIB4

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Missouri Master Gardener Demographics

A survey was conducted of Missouri Master Gardeners to identify their demographics and to determine if Master Gardeners fit general volunteer demographic patterns. Females accounted for 65% of respondents and males 35%. Those in their 40's comprised the largest demographic group. The majority were married with children; over 50% had at least a college degree; one-third had household incomes of $60,000 or greater; most were long-term residents of small towns or rural areas. Missouri Master Gardener demographics fit the pattern of volunteers in general, but demographic data proved to be a poor predictor of intent to continue volunteering.

Denny S. Schrock
Extension Specialist
University of Illinois
Urbana, Illinois
Internet address: dsschroc@uiuc.edu
Formerly at University of Missouri

Mary Meyer
Assistant Professor

Peter Ascher

Mark Snyder

University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota


University Extension Master Gardeners have been utilized by all fifty states to help meet consumer demands for horticultural information (Barton, 1988; Guest, 1997; Norman, 1986; Roberts, 1982). Extension makes a significant investment in training these horticultural volunteers (Meyer & Hanchek, 1997; Ruppert, Bradshaw & Stewart, 1997). Understanding better who volunteers as a Master Gardener may be helpful in targeting training and management programs to their needs (Clary et al., 1998).

Materials and Methods

A survey was conducted of randomly selected current and former Missouri Master Gardeners to identify the demographics of volunteers attracted to the program, and to determine if Master Gardeners fit the pattern of volunteers in general, or if the program attracts atypical volunteers. Of the 417 surveys sent out, 282 responses were received for a 67.6% response rate.

From its inception in 1983, over 1,600 volunteers have been trained in the Missouri Master Gardener program at 32 sites around the state, and 1,050 were active when this article was written. The core course training program consists of 30-45 hours of classroom instruction, depending on location and instructor availability. During the first year, after completing core course classroom instruction, Master Gardener trainees are required to donate hours of service, conducting educational horticulture programs equivalent to their training hours to their local extension center in order to become certified Master Gardeners. In succeeding years, active Master Gardener status is maintained by donating 20 or more hours of volunteer time.


Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents indicated they were presently active in the program while 32% said they were inactive. When asked the extent of their involvement, 22.4% indicated they had contributed no volunteer hours during the past year; 20.9% had volunteered up to 20 hours; 31.4% had volunteered between 20 and 40 hours; and 25.3% had contributed over 40 hours of volunteer Master Gardener time. Females accounted for 65% of respondents and males 35%.

Results presented in Table 1 indicate that Missouri Master Gardeners were slightly older than Master Gardeners in metropolitan Atlanta, GA (Rohs & Westerfield, 1996) or San Antonio, TX (Finch, 1997). Because age categories in the various studies were not identical, direct comparisons were not always possible. Nearly 60% of Missouri Master Gardeners were 50 or older, while only 55% of Atlanta Master Gardeners fell into the same age brackets and only 48% of San Antonio Master Gardeners were 45 or older. However, in Missouri, those in their 40's comprised the largest demographic group, and nearly equal numbers of respondents were represented in the 40-, 50- and 60-year-old age brackets.

The majority of Missouri Master Gardeners were married with children (Table 1). Over 95% had been married at some point, and 82.5% were still married. Fewer than 5% of Missouri Master Gardeners were single, compared to 16% of Atlanta Master Gardeners in this category (Rohs & Westerfield, 1996). Missouri Master Gardeners were also more likely to have children than Atlanta metropolitan Master Gardeners (86.2% vs. 79%). Table 1 indicates the age distribution of children of Master Gardener volunteers. Totals are greater than 100% because respondents may have children in more than one age bracket. From the data it is evident that most children of Master Gardeners were adults, whereas very few were of preschool age.

Table 1
Age and family status demographics of current
and former Missouri Master Gardeners
Parameter Percentage
20's 1.1
30's 12.7
40's 27.2
50's 23.2
60's 24.6
70 and older 11.7
Marital Status
Married 82.5
Divorced 6.9
Widowed 5.5
Single 4.4
Separated 0.7
Ages of Children
No children 13.8
Preschool 5.4
Elementary 14.9
Jr./Sr. high 18.1
College 14.1
Adult 60.5

Missouri Master Gardeners were well-educated (Table 2). All were at least high school graduates and nearly 90% had some schooling beyond the secondary level. Over 50% had at least a college degree and 22% had post-graduate work beyond the baccalaureate level.

Missouri Master Gardeners were moderately wealthy. One-third had a household income of $60,000 or greater, and nearly another one-quarter had a household income between $40,000 and $60,000. Only 10.3% came from households with less than $20,000 income. In comparison, Rohs and Westerfield (1996) reported 12% of metropolitan Atlanta Master Gardeners with an income of less than $20,000, 36% between $20,000 and $50,000, and 52% with more than $50,000 income. Finch (1997) reported average income levels by zip code of residence in San Antonio. According to his findings, 10% lived in low income neighborhoods (under $15,000), 23% in moderate income neighborhoods ($15,000 to $24,000), 24% in middle income areas ($24,001 to $36,000), and 43% in upper income communities (over $36,000).

Table 2
Educational, income, and occupational demographics
of current and former Missouri Master Gardeners
Parameter Percentage
Level of
High school graduate 11.6
Some college 35.3
College graduate 30.9
Post graduate 22.2
Under $20,000 10.3
$20,000 to $39,999 32.5
$40,000 to $59,999 23.4
$60,000 or more 33.3
Retired 26.9
Homemaker 14.6
Horticulture/agriculture 10.7
Professional 10.3
Trade 7.5
Medical 7.5
Sales/service 6.7
Business/commerce 5.5
Education 4.7
Other 5.6

The largest occupational group of Missouri Master Gardeners was retired, at 26.9% (Table 2). This corresponded very closely with data from Rohs & Westerfield (1996), who found 29% of Atlanta Master Gardeners were retired. The second largest occupational category was homemakers at 14.6%, substantially lower than the 24% for this category reported from Atlanta. Occupational categories accounting for approximately 5 to 10% of the total each were, in order: horticulture/agriculture, professional, trade, medical, sales/service, business/commerce, and education. Occupations falling into the "other" category were government, student, arts, unemployed, and volunteer.

Missouri Master Gardeners were more likely to be from small towns or rural areas than from medium or large cities (Table 3). Of the respondents to the survey, 53.9% lived in rural areas or towns under 25,000 population, 24.3% lived in cities between 25,000 and 250,000 population, and 21.7% lived in large cities, based on the zip code of their residence. This means Master Gardeners are over-represented in small communities and medium-sized communities and under-represented in large metropolitan areas. According to 1990 census data, only 10% of the state's population lives in communities under 25,000; 7.7% live in cities with a population between 25,000 and 250,000; and 82.3% of Missourians live in metropolitan areas over 250,000.

Master Gardeners tend to be long-term residents of their communities. Of the survey respondents, 57.2% had lived at their current residence for more than 10 years, and 24.3% had lived there between 5 and 10 years. Only 18.5% were new residents of less than 5 years. This compares to a more mobile Master Gardener population in Atlanta (Rohs & Westerfield, 1996), where the percentages were 42% for those more than 10 years, 31% for those between 5 and 10 years, and 27% for residents under 5 years at their present location.

Table 3
Residential demographics of current
and former Missouri Master Gardeners
Parameter Percentage
City > 250,000 21.7
City 25,000 - 249,999 24.3
Area under 25,000 53.9
Years in
Less than 5 18.5
5 to 10 24.3
More than 10 57.2


Missouri Master Gardener volunteer demographics fit the pattern of volunteers in general as reported by Smith (1994). He stated that long-term residents, those from smaller communities, and those with higher education and income levels were more likely to be volunteers than new residents, those from large communities, or those with less education or low income levels.

Knoke & Thomson (1977) related life stage to volunteerism. They found that unmarried persons under 40 years of age with no children at home, young parents with school age children, and older parents (over 40 years of age) with children of any age were more likely to volunteer than were young married people under 40 with no children, young parents with pre-school children, older couples over 40 with no children in the home, or singles over 40 with no children or spouse in the home. This pattern does not hold true for Missouri Master Gardeners.

Demographic data proved to be a poor predictor of intent to continue volunteering in the Master Gardener program. When asked to respond on a Likert scale of one to seven, "Based on your experience, how likely are you to volunteer for the Master Gardener program in the future?", no statistical differences were noted in responses by those of various ages, relationship status, income level, occupation, level of education, number of years at current residence, or number of years active in the Master Gardener program.

However, those presently active and those with greater hours of volunteer service in the past year were more likely to respond positively to the question. In addition, females were more likely than males to indicate a stronger intent to continue volunteering in the Master Gardener program. Therefore, demographics alone can not be used to predict continued involvement as a Master Gardener volunteer.


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