Motherhood and its impact on career progression

Bryan McIntosh (Business and Economics, Richmond University, London, UK)
Ronald McQuaid (Employment Research Institute, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK)
Anne Munro (Employment Research Institute, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK)
Parviz Dabir‐Alai (Business and Economics, Richmond University, London, UK)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Publication date: 13 July 2012



After many years of equal opportunities legislation, motherhood still limits womens' career progress even in a feminized occupation such as nursing. While the effect of motherhood, working hours, career breaks and school aged children upon career progression has been discussed widely, its actual scale and magnitude has received less research attention. The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of these factors individually and cumulatively.


This paper considers the impact of the above through a longitudinal analysis of a demographically unique national database, comprising the 46,565 registered nursing workforces in NHS Scotland from 2000‐2008. The variables examined include gender, employment grades, number and length of career breaks, lengths of service, age, working patterns, the number and age of dependent children.


The results indicate: motherhood has a regressively detrimental effect on women's career progression. However, this is a simplistic term which covers a more complex process related to the age of dependent children, working hours and career breaks. The degree of women's restricted career progression is directly related to the school age of the dependent children: the younger the child the greater the detrimental impact. Women who take a career break of greater than two years see their careers depressed and restricted. The results confirm that whilst gender has a relatively positive effect on male career progression; a women's career progression is reduced incrementally as she has more children, and part‐time workers have reduced career progression regardless of maternal or paternal circumstances.


This paper is the only example internationally, of a national workforce being examined on this scale and therefore its findings are significant. For the first time the impact of motherhood upon a women's career progression and the related factors – dependent children, career breaks and part‐time working are quantified. These findings are relevant across many areas of employment and they are significant in relation to broadening the debate around equal opportunities for women.



McIntosh, B., McQuaid, R., Munro, A. and Dabir‐Alai, P. (2012), "Motherhood and its impact on career progression", Gender in Management, Vol. 27 No. 5, pp. 346-364.

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