Wisconsin mothers have more education than they have had in the past, a trend associated with improvements in child well-being. But progress has been uneven across the state, and some rural counties in Wisconsin have experienced decreases in maternal education levels rather than increases.
In 2015, 11.1% of births in Wisconsin, or 7,417 births, were to women who did not have a high school degree. That’s down from 15.4% of births, or 10,883 births, that occurred in Wisconsin in 2005.
The decline in the share of births to women without high school degrees has been especially steep in the urban counties in southeast Wisconsin. Between 2005 and 2015, the share of births to women without high school degrees fell by 33% in Milwaukee County, 34% in Racine County, and 39% in Rock County.
Counties in the rural northeast area of the state have also experienced a steep decline in the share of births to mothers without a high school degree. Between 2005 and 2015, the share of births to women without high school degrees fell by 76% in Menominee County, 62% in Langlade County, and 45% in Marinette County.
In a few counties, however, the share of births to mothers without high school degrees increased over this period. These counties are mostly located in western and southwestern Wisconsin. Between 2005 and 2015, the share of births to women without high school degrees increased by 79% in Lafayette County, 71% in Buffalo County, and 31% in Rusk County.
In 2015, the counties with the highest share of births to mothers without high school degrees were Clark, Vernon, and Green Lake Counties. The counties with the smallest share were Washington, Waukesha, and Ozaukee Counties.
Wisconsin is part of a national trend of an increase in maternal educational attainment. A review by Pew Research Center follows the trend back several decades and explains how rising education levels of mothers can have positive effects on the well-being of their children:
“Experts have identified a strong linkage between child well-being and maternal education levels. On average, a mother with more education is more likely to deliver a baby at term and more likely to have a baby with a healthy birth weight. As they grow up, children with more educated mothers tend to have better cognitive skills and higher academic achievement than others. It is difficult to determine whether maternal education is causing some of these outcomes, or if it is serving as a proxy for some other causal factor (for example, economic well-being). What is irrefutable, though, is that on average the more education a woman has, the better off her children will be.”
For more information about maternal education level and other information about births in Wisconsin, go to the Kids Count Data Center. The Data Center has information on demographics, education, poverty, health, safety, and other factors influencing the well-being of Wisconsin children and families.