Mary C. Waters Ph.D.

M.E. Zukerman Professor of Sociology
Department of Sociology
Harvard University
Email: Discipline: Sociology, Demography Expertise: Neighborhood Health, Consequences of conflicts, disasters, mass traumas, Population Health, Immigration

Investigator Award
Long Term Resilience and Recovery from Disasters
Award Year: 2013 Despite the regular occurrence of large scale natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes, evidence based policy recommendations for maximizing long term resilience and recovery has been thin. Research on large scale disasters has suffered from three problems—a lack of pre-disaster data, the short term focus of most studies that end soon after the initial impact, and a focus on the recovery of the place where the disaster occurred, rather than on the recovery of the people who experienced the disaster; wherever they may be. The RISK study—Resilience of Survivors in Hurricane Katrina is a longitudinal study of a vulnerable population—1,019 largely female African American poor people in New Orleans. They were part of a study of community college students that began a year before Hurricane Katrina. We had two waves of pre-disaster data on physical and mental health, social support, social trust, socioeconomic status and geo-coded neighborhood indicators. With support from NSF and NIH we relocated the participants and have surveyed them in 2006 and again in 2009-2010, back in New Orleans and in the 31 different states where they now lived. Our overall aim in this proposed three year project is to understand the mechanisms by which disasters affect the mental and physical health of vulnerable populations over the long-term, as well as how policy interventions can prevent resource loss and promote recovery. We seek funding to analyze our longitudinal physical and mental health data and to write a book and short policy briefs synthesizing our study and drawing out the implications for disaster and health care policy. We seek to identify the ways in which local, state and federal policy responses, as well as decisions made by private employers and non profits, can lessen the long term negative health impacts of disaster and displacement and can promote long term recovery and resilience.


MARY C. WATERS is the M.E. Zukerman Professor and former chair of Sociology at Harvard University, where she is also a faculty associate and steering committee member of the Center for Population and Development Studies and a member of the Executive Committee of the Robert Wood Johnson Scholars in Health Policy Program. She has taught at Harvard since she received her PhD from U.C. Berkeley in 1986. Her work has focused on the integration of immigrants and their children, the transition to adulthood for the children of immigrants, intergroup relations, the measurement and meaning of racial and ethnic identity, and the social, demographic and psychological impact of natural disasters. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society; a former member and chair of the Board of Trustees of the Russell Sage Foundation and she is a Member of the Committee of Final Selection of the Guggenheim Foundation.  She has testified before Congress and consulted with the US Census Bureau on the measurement of race and ethnicity. Her work has been supported by the NIH, the NSF, the Russell Sage, Mellon, Ford, Rockefeller, MacArthur, Guggenheim and WT Grant Foundations and the Foundation for Child Development.

She is the author, co-author or editor of 11 books and over 70 articles. Her study of the children of immigrants, Inheriting the City: The Second Generation Comes of Age (with Philip Kasinitz, John Mollenkopf and Jennifer Holdaway) (Russell Sage Foundation, 2008) won the 2010 American Sociological Association Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Award, the Mira Komarovsky Award of the Eastern Sociological Society and the Thomas and Znaniecki Award of the International Migration Section of the ASA. Her 1999 book Black Identities: West Indian Immigrant Dreams and American Realities (Harvard) won five scholarly awards. In addition to co-leading the RISK study of the longitudinal impact of natural disasters, Waters is currently the chair of the National Academy of Sciences Panel on The Integration of Immigrants into American Society and she is collaborating on a study of the role of government assistance in the integration of Latino immigrants in three American cities.