We present an investigation of rotation–activity correlations using International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) SWP measurements of the C iv emission line at 1550Å for 72 active binary systems. We use a standard stellar evolution code to derive non-empirical Rossby numbers, R0, for each star in our sample and compare the resulting C iv rotation–activity correlation to that found for empirically derived values of the Rossby number and that based on rotation alone. For dwarf stars our values of R0 do not differ greatly from empirical ones and we find a corresponding lack of improvement in correlation. Only a marginal improvement in correlation is found for evolved components in our sample. We discuss possible additional factors, other than rotation or convection, that may influence the activity levels in active binaries. Our observational data imply, in contrast to the theoretical predictions of convective motions, that activity is only weakly related to mass in evolved stars. We conclude that current dynamo theory is limited in its application to the study of active stars because of the uncertainty in the angular velocity-depth profile in stellar interiors and the unknown effects of binarity and surface gravity.