A generalized layer-wise stochastic finite element formulation is developed for the buckling analysis of both homogeneous and laminated plates with random material properties. The pre-buckled stresses are considered in the derivation of geometric stiffness matrix and the effect of variation in these stresses on the mean and coefficient of variation of buckling strength is studied. The mean buckling strength of plates under uniform stress assumption exactly matches with those reported in the literature. However, it is shown that the actual mean buckling strength of plates can be significantly different based on the pre-buckled stress analysis which depends on boundary constraints, principal material directions, aspect and thickness ratios of plates. The statistics of buckling strength is determined using a Taylor series expansion based mean centered first order perturbation technique. The stochastic finite element solutions obtained using layer-wise plate theory is also validated with analytical solutions presented in this paper. Parametric studies are conducted for different aspect ratios, ply orientations and boundary conditions. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.