Intersectionality in quantitative research: A systematic review of its emergence and applications of theory and methods

Greta R. Bauer, Siobhan M. Churchill, Mayuri Mahendran, Chantel Walwyn, Daniel Lizotte, Alma Angelica Villa-Rueda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

235 Scopus citations


Background: Intersectionality is a theoretical framework rooted in the premise that human experience is jointly shaped by multiple social positions (e.g. race, gender), and cannot be adequately understood by considering social positions independently. Used widely in qualitative studies, its uptake in quantitative research has been more recent. Objectives: To characterize quantitative research applications of intersectionality from 1989 to mid-2020, to evaluate basic integration of theoretical frameworks, and to identify innovative methods that could be applied to health research. Methods: Adhering to PRISMA guidelines, we conducted a systematic review of peer-reviewed articles indexed within Scopus, Medline, ProQuest Political Science and Public Administration, and PsycINFO. Original English-language quantitative or mixed-methods research or methods papers that explicitly applied intersectionality theoretical frameworks were included. Experimental studies on perception/stereotyping and measures development or validation studies were excluded. We extracted data related to publication, study design, quantitative methods, and application of intersectionality. Results: 707 articles (671 applied studies, 25 methods-only papers, 11 methods plus application) met inclusion criteria. Articles were published in journals across a range of disciplines, most commonly psychology, sociology, and medical/life sciences; 40.8% studied a health-related outcome. Results supported concerns among intersectionality scholars that core theoretical tenets are often lost or misinterpreted in quantitative research; about one in four applied articles (26.9%) failed to define intersectionality, while one in six (17.5%) included intersectional position components not reflective of social power. Quantitative methods were simplistic (most often regression with interactions, cross-classified variables, or stratification) and were often misapplied or misinterpreted. Several novel methods were identified. Conclusions: Intersectionality is frequently misunderstood when bridging theory into quantitative methodology. Further work is required to (1) ensure researchers understand key features that define quantitative intersectionality analyses, (2) improve reporting practices for intersectional analyses, and (3) develop and adapt quantitative methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100798
JournalSSM - Population Health
StatePublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research , Institute of Gender and Health , through a project grant ( MOP-130489 ) and a Sex and Gender Science Chair ( GSB-171372 ). The funders had no role in the study design, analysis or preparation of results.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s)


  • Epidemiology
  • Intersectionality
  • Research methods
  • Statistics
  • Systematic review


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