October 2007 // Volume 45 // Number 5 // Research in Brief // 5RIB7

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Differences in Youth Perceptions of Ohio 4-H Based on Gender

Results from over 1,400 youth in northwest Ohio reveal that 4-H is perceived more favorably by female than male youth. Parents and friends of youth also tend to encourage females to be active at higher levels than they do males. It is important for 4-H to consider youth perceptions in program planning and development. 4-H professionals should consider designing programs to be more attractive to male youth.

Greg Homan
Extension Educator
Van Wert County
Van Wert, Ohio

Jeff Dick
Extension Educator
Williams County
Bryan, Ohio

Jason Hedrick
Extension Educator
Putnam County
Ottawa, Ohio

Ohio State University Extension


There were 34,491 boys (40.8%) and 49,954 girls (59.2%) involved in Ohio 4-H clubs in 2005 (Table 1). When evaluating Ohio 4-H overnight camping numbers, again more females participate than males. Enrollment numbers in 2004 indicate there were 14,478 boys (45.2%) and 17,569 girls (54.8%) participating in Ohio 4-H camps (Ohio 4-H Youth Development State Statistical Report, 2004).

A look at national 4-H statistics indicates that this trend of higher enrollment by females is consistent across the United States. In 2003, there were 668,579 males (43.8%) and 858,029 females (56.2%) enrolled in 4-H community clubs. Camping numbers also reflected a higher number of female participants with 125,006 males (41.8%) and 174,291 females (58.2%) (USDA, 2003). According to Table 2, when analyzing 4-H enrollment in Ohio by gender, the percentage of male members is highest in kindergarten (46.5%), with a gradual decrease as youth advance in age.

Table 1.
4-H Enrollment & Volunteers by Gender

Ohio 4-H Club Enrollment (2005)40.8%59.2%
Ohio 4-H Overnight Camp Enrollment (2004)45.2%54.8%
National 4-H Club Enrollment (2003)43.8%56.2%
National 4-H Camp Enrollment (2003)41.8%58.2%
Ohio 4-H Volunteers (2005)31.1%68.9%
National 4-H Volunteers (2003)29.4%70.6%

Table 2.
Percent Youth Enrolled in Ohio 4-H Clubs by Gender


Gender plays an important role in youth development and socialization through various extracurricular activities. When evaluating youth involvement in sports, sports have been found to be perceived as a "gendered" activity and privileging males due to alleged advantages in athletic ability (Soloman & Bredemeir, 1999). Eccles & Harold (1991) found that parents rate their daughters' talents for sport substantially lower than that of their sons and that sons are more encouraged to take part in sports. According to Jacobs & Eccles (1992), there is a link between how a mother appraises her child's natural ability in achievement areas such as sport and the gender of her children. Not only have parents been found to have differing perceptions of their youths' natural inclination for sports, but teachers have been found to rate boys as having more talent for sports than girls (Eccles & Harold, 1991).

Females tend to be less interested in competition and more interested in the intrinsic motives such as improving oneself and developing social relationships with others (Koivola, 2001; Barber, Sukhi, & White, 1999); White, Duda, & Keller, 1998). Eccles & Harold (1991) indicate that the tendency of viewing sports as masculine tends to persuade females to be less likely to pursue sports. They, instead, pursue more "feminine" activities that are more congruent with their self-schema, or how they perceive themselves.

In 4-H, the vast majority of volunteers are female. According to 2003 National 4-H statistics, there were 124,557 male volunteers (29.4%) versus 299,430 female volunteers (70.6%). In the state of Ohio, for the year 2005, there were 13,204 female volunteers (68.9%) and 5,951 male volunteers (31.1%) (Ohio 4-H Youth Development State Statistical Report, 2004).

The trends of higher enrollment in 4-H based on gender have existed in Ohio 4-H for many years. Thirty-one thousand one hundred and three boys (33.1%) and 67,747 girls (66.9%) were community club members in 1964, with 3,930 male volunteers (33.4%) and 7,834 female volunteers (66.6%). In 1934 there were 18,078 males (34.4%) and 34,477 females (65.6%).

The purpose of the study reported here was to explore the nature of gender and its effect on youth perceptions of Ohio 4-H. Extension educators can use these findings in their program-planning process to design 4-H in such a way to appeal to both males and females. An analysis of youth enrollment statistics suggest gender can play a key role in youth enrollment and retention in 4-H.

Methods and Procedures

The descriptive and correlation study was conducted to assess youth perceptions of 4-H. Nine cooperating schools, located in five northwest Ohio counties, were chosen by the researchers. Three written questionnaires were designed and tailored for past 4-H members, current 4-H members, and those who have never joined 4-H. The instruments were designed to be short and cover multiple aspects of 4-H. A sample survey was administered in Continental Local Schools to ensure the instrument's validity and reliability. Five related questions were evaluated using Cronbach's alpha with a reliability coefficient of .83.

The research was reviewed and accepted by the Human Subjects Review Board at The Ohio State University. Written parental permission was obtained for participants who took part in the study. Anonymity and confidentiality of participants and their individual responses were maintained throughout the project. The researchers administered the instruments in the spring of 2005, arranged when suitable for the respective schools.

Youth in grades 4, 7, and 10 were invited to participate in the study, with 1,462 providing usable data from the nine cooperating school districts. Five-point anchored Likert-type questions were developed measuring level of agreement (from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree"). Questions were analyzed using Kruskal Wallis tests to determine significant differences in sample responses based on group identifiers. Pearson correlations were used to determine interrelation between various components of the research.

Research questions included:

  1. Is there a difference in youth perception of 4-H between males and females?

  2. Is there a difference between male and female 4-H youth when evaluating the level of encouragement from parents to participate in 4-H?


1. Is there a difference in youth perception of 4-H between males and females?

When evaluating the perception of 4-H by youth, a significant difference was found (Table 3), indicating that females are more likely to agree that 4-H is "fun," "cool," and less likely to agree that 4-H is "boring" (p<.01).

Table 3.
Perceptions of Ohio 4-H Based on Gender (p<.01)

Gender4-H Fun4-H Cool4-H Boring
Male (n=739)2.912.862.80
Female (n=719)

2. Is there a difference between male and female 4-H youth when evaluating the level of encouragement from parents and friends to participate in 4-H?

Female youth report higher parental encouragement to participate in 4-H (Table 4). Stronger encouragement is perceived by females from their friends to take part in 4-H, and they are also more likely to report that their friends will stay in 4-H than males (p<.01).

Table 4.
Encouragement to Participate in 4-H by Gender (p<.01)

GenderMy Parents Want Me in 4-HMy Friends Want Me in 4-HMy Friends will Stay in 4-H
Male (n=739)2.392.373.09
Female (n=719)2.592.703.43


  • 4-H is perceived more favorably by female youth than males. Female youth agree more strongly that 4-H is "fun" and "cool." They are also less likely to agree that 4-H is "boring" than males (p<.01).

  • Female youth report higher levels of encouragement to participate in 4-H than males. Stronger responses were received from females (as compared to males) when asked if their parents want them in 4-H, if their friends want them in 4-H, and if their friends that are in 4-H will stay in 4-H (p<.01).

Conclusions and Recommendations

The findings of the study reported here indicate there is an overall perception difference in 4-H based on the gender of youth. Females rate 4-H more favorable than comparable males of all grades and in families compared by the alumni status of parents. Female youth are more likely to report that their parents and friends want them to be a part of 4-H. The enrollment trends indicate that approximately 60% of 4-H community club members are female.

Looking at Ohio 4-H enrollment based on gender and age, it is evident that not only is there a overall lower perception of 4-H by male youth, but male youth are less likely to remain in 4-H as they get older. 4-H clubs are not as attractive to male youth as they are to females, particularly as they get older. 4-H club volunteers will need additional training to design local club experiences that are attractive to male youth. The opinions and input of diverse youth should be sought in developing 4-H club activities to ensure their attractiveness to all youth (particularly males).

Educators should seek programs that appeal to male youth because they are under-represented. Males need to maintain an equal presence in organizational planning and club work. 4-H curriculum should be evaluated to ensure that 4-H projects are meeting the needs and interests of both genders equally. Educators should also actively seek male volunteers to enhance program diversity and annually review program enrollments to ensure the needs of all youth are met.

We recommend further research to analyze the reasons for differences in youth perceptions of 4-H based on gender. Why do youth tend to perceive 4-H as a "gendered-activity?"


Barber, H., Sukhi, H. & White, S. A. (1999). The influence of parent-coaches on participant motivation and competitive anxiety in youth sport participants. Journal of Sport Behavior, 22. 162-179.

Davis, J. A. (1971). Elementary survey analysis. Englewood, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Eccles, J., & Harold, R. (1991). Gender differences in sport involvement: Applying the Eccles' Expectancy-Value Model. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 3. 7-35.

Jacobs, J., & Eccles, J. (1992). The impact of mothers' gender-role stereotypic beliefs on mothers' and children's ability perceptions. APA, 63(6), 932-944.

Koivula, N. (2001). Perceived characteristics of sports categorized as gender-neutral, feminine and masculine. Journal of Sport Behavior. Retrieved April 20, 2002 from: http://proquest.umi.com

Ohio State University Extension (2003-2005). Ohio 4-H youth development statistics. The Ohio State University.

Solomon, G. & Bredemeier, B. (1999). Children's moral conceptions of gender stratification in sport. International Journal Sport Psychology, 30. 350-368.

United States Department of Agriculture (2003). Annual 4-H youth development enrollment report. Retrieved December 10, 2005 from: http://www.reeis.usda.gov

White, S., Duda, J., & Keller, M. (1998). The relationship between goal orientation and perceived purposes of sport among youth sport participants. Journal of Sport Behavior. Retrieved April 20, 2002 from: http://proquest.umi.com