Mary C. Waters

Harvard University

Primary Section: 53, Social and Political Sciences
Membership Type: Member (elected 2010)


Mary Waters is the John Loeb Professor of Sociology and the PVK Professor of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, where she has been on the faculty since 1986. A sociologist and demographer, her work has focused on the integration of immigrants and their children, the social determinants of health, immigration policy, natural disasters and their aftermath, the transition to adulthood, and the measurement and meaning of racial and ethnic identity. Early work focused on the meaning of ethnic identities for whites in the U.S.—characterizing them as optional and voluntary in later generations. Her work on black immigrants emphasized the interplay of racial and ethnic identities which are often overlooked by native whites and blacks in the U.S. In a series of studies of the integration of immigrants and their children, Waters found that children of immigrants are integrating rapidly and show much social mobility compared to their parents, although their fates are still tied to continuing racial stratification. Recent research has focused on the mental and physical health consequences of natural disasters and the geographic mobility that often ensues. She is also researching the role of legal status in the life chances of immigrants.

Research Interests

Waters has led the Risk Project, a longitudinal study of physical and mental health, geographic and social mobility and well-being among survivors of Hurricane Katrina. This study, funded by NIH, NSF, and the MacArthur and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations, includes pre-hurricane data on physical and mental health and follows survivors wherever they have relocated, currently to 31 states.  The study focused on the long term effects of the hurricane trauma and relocation on mental and physical health outcomes for survivors and their children.  This research has also led to an interest in the consequences of climate change for human mobility and well-being.   Other current projects include a study of older Latino immigrants and their access to social services (with Rocio Calvo) and a study of the role of legal status and race in the integration of immigrants and their children (with Phillip Kasinitz).

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