A comparative study of the interlaminar stresses in shells of revolution has been made between first order shear deformation theory (FSDT), higher order shear deformation theory with thickness stretch (HSDTY), higher order shear deformation theory with higher order inplane displacement terms (HSDT9) and three-dimensional finite element (3D) models. A semi-analytical approach is used for all the models. Interlaminar stresses are evaluated using equilibrium equations in the cases of FSDT, HSDT7 and HSDT9 models as interlaminar stresses obtained from constitutive equations are not correct. For the 3D model an eight-noded quadratic quadrilateral semi-analytic solid element is used whereas for equivalent single layer (ESL) theories a three-noded isoparametric curved element is used. Crossply parabolic and hyperbolic caps subjected to uniform external pressure and a simply supported cylindrical shell subjected to an internal sinusoidal pressure are considered in the present study. © 1996 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.