Educational Attainment of Mothers Aged 25 Years and Over: United States, 2017

Questions for Brady E. Hamilton, Ph.D., Demographer, Statistician, and Lead Author of “Educational Attainment of Mothers Aged 25 Years and Over: United States, 2017.”

Q: Why study education attainment of mothers in the United States?

BH: Educational attainment of the mother is considered an important measure of socioeconomic status. Maternal education has been shown to be associated with the number of births per woman, timing of childbearing, contraceptive use, and risk of adverse birth outcomes. Women with higher educational attainment have been shown to be more likely to desire and give birth to fewer children and are less likely to engage in behaviors detrimental to their health and pregnancy.


Q: How did you obtain data on educational attainment of mothers?

BH: Information on the educational attainment of mother shown in the report is based on data from 100% of the birth certificates filed in the states and District of Columbia in 2017. The birth certificate includes a question on the highest degree or level of school completed by the mother at the time of delivery. Data collected from the birth certificates on this and other items are provided to the National Center for Health Statistics.


Q: How did educational attainment of mother vary by race and state in 2017?

BH: Large differences in maternal educational attainment are observed by race and Hispanic origin and by state. For example, for mothers aged 25 and over with a Bachelor’s or advanced degree in 2017,  levels ranged from a low of 12.7% and 13.2% for non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander mothers to a high of 67.9% for non-Hispanic Asian mothers. By state, the percentage of births to mothers aged 25 and over with a Bachelor’s or advanced degree ranged from a low of 26.6% for Nevada to a high of 58.5% for the District of Columbia.


Q: Do you have trend data on educational attainment of mothers that goes back 10 or 20 years?

BH: No, this report is the first to present information on the educational attainment of mothers in the United States in more than 20 years. During this time, comparable data on the education level of mothers were not available for all of the states and District of Columbia and so national data could not be produced. Comparable national data on the education level became available only recently, in 2016. The last report to present national data on the educational attainment was published in 1997 (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/mvsr/supp/mv45_10s.pdf .


Q: Was there a specific finding in your report that surprised you?

BH: The range in the mean number of live births by level of educational attainment is certainly noteworthy. The difference in the mean between women with less than a 12th grade education with no diploma and women with an advanced degree is nearly 1 whole birth. In addition, the wide range in the percentage of births by educational attainment for the race and Hispanic origin groups and state, mentioned above, were also notable.

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